Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Completely unrelated comments on The Marsh King and Vitamin D

We’re reading The Marsh King, as I mentioned before (yes, we’re still reading our October books in December; c’est la vie), and Friday we read the chapter “The Battle of Kynwit.” Kynwit is a fortress being held by one of King Alfred’s men and during the night a band of Vikings sail up and attack. I had the hardest time at first, kept stumbling over the words until I realized what was happening. Up to this point the narrative has been a simple, straightforward style, but just listen to this (do, do read it aloud so you can hear it!):

Brightly the moonpath shone upon the sea, widely seen from high Kynwit wall, the stone fortress where Odda, Helmund’s stark son, stood watching. Hands gripping stone wall stood he there proudly. As a ship’s prow the wall was to him. Moon-swimming clouds above him breasted the sky, and he felt the fortress as a ship moving, traveling the shadowed sea.

On the dark sea eastward no ship moved that he saw. On the high sea cliff westward no warning watchfire gleamed. Men slept in Odda’s hall; the clustered shields slept on the long walls, weary with waiting. Odda therefore went weary likewise to his bedplace. The sentry alone now on the high wall watched nothing, saw nothing but the crowding shadows of clouds on the face of the moon-gleaming sea. On the high sea-cliff by the watchfire the sentry slept, and did not see the dark ships creeping that way, close below the cliff.

It’s prose but it’s written very much like Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry – it feels like reading Beowulf. There’s the alliteration, the parallelism, and the kennings. The whole chapter is like that and it’s a wonderful chapter.

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A few months ago when my doctor ordered a battery of tests for me, one of the things she tested was for my Vitamin D levels. I was pretty low – about 25, when she wants me to be above 60 – so I’ve been taking 1000 mg of D3 every day for about twelve weeks now. I get bloodwork done again this week to see if things are improving, but I can tell you that they are. Usually some time in the middle of November I start feeling like if the sun doesn’t come back soon I’ll die. When I get that feeling, I go get my globe and look at the analemma, finding the day’s date. (Click the picture for a close-up to see what I’m talking about.)

Then I look straight across the figure-8 to the date on the other side. That’s the date when the day will be just as long as it is “today,” only the days will be lengthening. Then I tell myself that I really can live until that day.

Well, it’s December 6th today, and it hasn’t happened yet. I’m happy.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

A collect, pronounced /KOL-ect/ when used as a noun, is a brief prayer that's meant to be used at a certain place during a prayer service. There is one Collect for each Sunday of the year, plus for special days, and there are other collects, a Collect for Peace and a Collect for Grace are both used during Morning Prayer.

The Church year begins with Advent and the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent is to be used during prayers every day from now until Christmas.

Lex orandi lex credendi is an ancient principle that is translated, "The law of prayer is the law of belief." Among other things, this means that the way you pray, the way you worship, shapes what you believe. This little prayer beautifully encapsulates the entire Gospel.

One thing I love about written prayers is that they can be memorized and said by everyone in the family -- even the non-readers -- so that we can pray with one voice. We'll be including this one in our daily Morning and Evening prayers, after the Lord's Prayer, and before the closing prayers. Last night Mike read it alone, but after this we're going to encourage everyone to say it together.

I hope you'll pray it with us this Advent season. :-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Advent Tree

I can't believe it's nearly Advent -- this year just flew by!

This is an updated repost from last year.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Advent preparations

We've celebrated Advent with an Advent wreath nearly every Christmas since we married, but two years ago we added a new tradition: An Advent Tree!

It came about like this: We usually wait till just before Christmas Eve to get the Christmas tree and for some reason the kids always panic -- they always think we're not going to be able to find one this year. It almost happened once, ten or twelve years ago -- there had been a drought out west so there were fewer trees available than usual, and nearly all of them were sold out by the time we went shopping. We ended up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Well, six years ago when we first moved here to Virginia, we went to a church that put a Christmas tree up in the Parish house right after Thanksgiving, and had the children make ornaments on the first Sunday of Advent to put on it. Each ornament was decorated with, or made in the shape of, a traditional symbol that represents Christ -- a lamb, a cross, the Chi Rho, Alpha and Omega, and so forth. This style of ornament is called a "Chrismon," which means "Christ Monogram." I thought it was a neat idea and tried to figure out how to do it at home -- I mean, really, where would I put a second tree?

Finally I figured it out -- we didn't need two trees. All we had to do was put up the Christmas tree at the beginning of Advent, call it an Advent tree, and then decorate it with Chrismons. On Christmas Eve we could remove the Chrismons (or not) and add our usual Christmas ornaments. It worked out so well we did it again the next year and the kids are looking forward to it this year. We'll make the ornaments tomorrow so they'll have plenty of time to dry and can be decorated on Friday.

Here are the specifics (sorry I don't have any pictures -- I never have pictures).

Here's where you can find an explanation of Chrismons and a PDF file of patterns you can print out.

Here is a recipe for the ornaments. I cut them all out with a 3" biscuit cutter which is a nice size for decorating. The first year we used white fabric paint but last year I tried Wilton's fondant icing writer and sprinkled them with gold, silver, or pearl dust. They turned out beautifully. After Christmas we hung them outside for the birds. (Well, that was the intention anyway, and I thought we'd done it, but Elaienar tells me that none of them made it because the younger children insisted on saving them.)

The designs I have used are fairly simple -- Celtic cross, shepherd's crook, crown of thorns, cross and crown, eternity cross, IXΘYΣ, and several others that don't require much detail.

Thanksgiving weekend we put up the tree, with its lights and the star topper, a brass Moravian star, pierced, with a light inside. Saturday night before evening prayers, we turn on the lights (but not the star) and let the kids each pick one Chrismon to put on the tree, and talk a bit about the symbol and what it means. On Sunday we have the lights on all day, and that night we let them add a Chrismon, or one purple or silver ornament from our collection (purple being the color of Advent). The next week we add one Chrismon a day, but we leave the lights off until the next Saturday night. Then we do the whole thing over again so that the tree grows more and more festive as Christmas approaches.

On the 24th, we remove some of the purple and silver ornaments (because we have a LOT of Chrismas ornaments) and add the rest of our Christmas stuff. That night we turn on the star as well as the lights, and leave them on through Epiphany (except for while we were sleeping or away from home, of course). We take the tree down a day or so after Epiphany, and we generally start back to school on the next Monday, known traditionally as Plough Monday.

The kids love crafty stuff and I normally don't do much of that kind of thing with them, so it makes a nice change, and adding the ornaments day by day builds excitement in a way that's just perfect for this season of anticipation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Time, Death, and Poetry

or, Interesting and Sometimes Awkward Connections Made in Poetry Class

To get the full effect of this poem, you really need to read it aloud.

Calico Pie
~Edward Lear (1812-1888)

            Calico Pie,
            The little Birds fly
Down to the calico tree,
            Their wings were blue,
            And they sang ‘Tilly-loo!’
            Till away they flew,
And they never came back to me!
            They never came back!
            They never came back!
They never came back to me!

            Calico Jam,
            The little Fish swam
Over the syllabub sea,
            He took off his hat
            To the Sole and the Sprat,
            And the Willeby-wat,
But he never came back to me!
            He never came back!
            He never came back!
He never came back to me!

            Calico Ban,
            The little Mice ran,
To be ready in time for tea,
            They drank it all up,
            And danced in the cup,
But they never came back to me!
            They never came back!
            They never came back!
They never came back to me!

            Calico Drum,
            The Grasshoppers come,
The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee,
            Over the ground,
            Around and around,
            With a hop and a bound—
But they never came back!
            They never came back!
            They never came back!
They never came back to me!

My second son tends to latch onto a particular topic and want to discuss it over and over again from every conceivable angle... for years. It used to be ambulances and fire trucks and police cars, then it moved to the movie “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” particularly the fight scene between Michael and Pony. He still loves those and we still talk about them regularly, but his current passion is time.

Four years ago he started taking me to the calendar every morning so I could show him what day we were on and tell him the name of the day. Then he wanted to know the names of all the days of the week. We’d spend five or ten minutes, several times a day going over all this. He’s just about gotten them all memorized in order now, and I think he understands yesterday, today, and tomorrow, although he calls them, “last day,” “this day,” and “next day.”

This last year his questions have gotten harder. He wants to know where the days go when they leave.

When he first started asking me that I’d tell him, “They fly away like the little birds, and they never come back! They never come back, they never come back, they never come back to me!”

He liked that for a long time and would say the lines with me, but a few months ago he seemed to be wanting something more, so I told him that Sunday is the engine of a train and the rest of the days are the cars. He loves that one. Saturday is the caboose. He wanted Monday to be a special car, so it’s the coal car. Then, this Monday he asked me if “next day” is the next coal car, but I said a train would only have one coal car, so we decided that Tuesday is a freight car. “What does it carry?” I asked him. “Boxes,” he said.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

One of our poems in Dr. Taylor’s poetry class Monday was Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break.”

Break, break, break,
    On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
    The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
    That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
    That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
    To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
    And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
    At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
    Will never come back to me.

As you read this poem aloud (and you should) you can hear and feel the poet’s grief as he talks about missing this loved one. I hear an echo of David’s resignation to his baby’s death, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” But I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is for me to read that last line with the proper seriousness—my voice gets all sing-songy of its own accord, and it feels so irreverent, like giggling during prayer, because of course it reminds me of those lines in “Calico Pie,” which I’ve been reciting for years now.

That kind of connection is so embarrassing that I didn’t mention it in class. I wondered if Lear and Tennyson knew each other, or read each other’s works—whether one of them had borrowed from the other. They were contemporaries, so it’s possible.

Well, I’ve been thinking about it since then and I’ve decided that it’s not inappropriate. Both poems are describing loss, and in “Calico Pie” you get a feeling of inevitability as that repetitive refrain comes back again and again. Of course, Lear’s poem is lighthearted at first, but it starts feeling wistful by the time you get to the end of it. It’s right that it should feel that way.

And I’m glad that I’ve been using “Calico Pie” to talk about the days, about how, once they leave, they’re gone forever. Children should have a large store of words for giving voice to these feelings. They should feel comfortable using them in lots of situations, even when we’re only talking about a small loss. I think that being able to talk about the small losses will help them when the really painful losses start happening to them.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BCP: Morning Prayers, Thanksgiving 2011

I can’t believe it’s only a little over two weeks till Thanksgiving! I was born on Thanksgiving and it’s my favorite holiday. Isn’t that wonderful? I feel like Tootie in “Meet me in St. Louis,” who felt so lucky to have been born in her favorite city. ;-)

I like to have a huge, extravagant meal, enough to feed the whole family for the whole weekend. And we like to have a long morning prayer time before dinner, with songs and Scripture readings, and giving thanks for everything in the world.

To make things easier, I print out a missal (that’s a booklet that contains everything needed for the service) and make booklets of the hymns and canticles we’ll be using, so there are no disctractions created by flipping pages in the prayer book, Bible, and hymnal. I always try to print them out the day before so the younger children can decorate them.

Here are a few covers from last year’s missals:

And here are a few from 2008 before I had my long-arm stapler. That stapler saves a lot of time, but I think the yarn ties are prettier.

Here’s the missal we’ll be using this month. It’s mostly taken from the 1928 BCP, but the 1979 has some several appropriate prayers that I’ve included. The titles of the hymns and canticles we’ll be using are listed, but not the words, so it should be pretty easy for you to edit if you’d like to use it for your own family.

Click link below to view document

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How we use the prayer book, part 2B

Below is the same document I posted earlier today, only I've added in red the traditional salutations and the directions and other things I mentioned in the previous post. Hopefully this is more helpful than than all those random directions in the earlier post.

Edit Click "Read more" below to view the document. It was slowing down my page's load time and making the format act wonky, so I took it off the main page.

How we use the BCP, part 2

From my comments in the previous post, you’ll have seen that there’s not just one prayer book, but at least three. Here’s a quick history.

Some history
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canturbury, wrote the first one in 1549 under Edward VI. It was revised a during the reign of Mary I and again after her death. In 1662, after the Civil War, it received a major revision and this one is still the official prayer book of the Church of England, although since the 1980s most churches have been using officially sanctioned alternative service books. How this is different from an official prayer book I really don’t know.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer would be the one Charlotte Mason was familiar with. I haven’t read much of Charlotte Mason, but I’ve seen words from the Holy Communion service on a couple of occasions that I can think of—once she mentions the Sursum Corda (Priest: “Lift up your hearts.” Answer: “We lift them up unto the Lord.”) and once I remember her using the words “this our bounden duty and service,” when referring to raising children, which comes from the post-communion prayer. I just point that out in case anyone’s interested in reading the book that influenced her.

In America, after the War for Independence, the Prayer Book was revised to take out prayers for the Queen and substitute prayers for the President, and a few other changes of that nature. It received minor revisions in 1892 and in 1928, and a major revision in 1979. The Anglican church we belong to is not part of the mainline denomination, and we use the 1928 BCP, but the 1979 was the first that we used and we’ve continued to use it for prayers at home, although we use the lectionary from the 1928 so we’ll be reading the same Scriptures during the week as other members of our church.

Now some prayers
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has a section called Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families that has four brief prayer services: “In the Morning,” “At Noon,” “In the Early Evening,” and “At the Close of Day.” These are the simplest forms, so I’m starting here. Below is a link to a document you can download and use (all of the American prayer books are in the public domain).

Here are a few tips about the service.

It’s customary for the leader to begin the service by saying, “The Lord be with you.” The proper response is “And also with you,” (1979) or “And with thy spirit,” (1928). Then the leader says, “Let us pray,” and begins with the first line, “Open my lips, O Lord.” You don’t read the headers—“From Psalm 51” and so forth. Just jump into the text.

That opening verse is read responsively, with the leader reading up to the star, then the congregation reading the indented lines.

The directions in small italics are optional. The Lord’s Prayer is not optional and is said by everyone. Since the text is not included in the document below, I’ll include it here:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

If you’re from a non-liturgical tradition, you’ll notice that the language is a little different than what you might be used to. That’s because the first English language Bible authorized for use in the Church of England was Miles Coverdale’s 1538 version which was based on William Tyndale’s earlier translation. Tyndale used “trespasses,” and Cranmer kept that language when he wrote the first Prayer Book. But Presbyterian and Reformed churches preferred to use John Wycliff’s 1382 translation, and so did the translators of the King James version of the Bible.

Edit Click "Read more" below to view the document and the rest of my notes. It was slowing down my page's load time and making the format act wonky, so I took it off the main page.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Book of Common Prayer and how we use it: Introduction

Brandy asked me to write a bit about how we use the prayer book in our family and I’d be glad to share that as best I can (even though I know I still owe y’all an Abolition of Man post), but first I thought I’d give some background information so you can see where my husband and I are coming from.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, going to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and youth camp every summer. I loved that church and am so grateful for the pastor we had and his Bible teaching. Though I’d loved Jesus as far back as I could remember, it wasn’t until I was fifteen that I made a public profession of faith in him and was baptized. I figured I’d spend the rest of my life in that church.

My husband’s family started out Southern Baptist, then attended various charismatic churches for several years, but joined an Episcopal church around the time he was twelve because it had an active youth group that they wanted him to be part of. This particular church also had a charismatic bent, which wasn’t unusual in mainline churches in the seventies.

When I was nineteen, one of my friends started going to a Southern Baptist church that had had a charismatic revival, and I liked her new friends so much that I started going there on Sunday nights. You might expect that it would be hard for a Southern Baptist girl to fit into a charasmatic church, but I had a kind of conversion there, and loved that church and those people.

Speaking of love…
That’s where Mike and I met. :-) After we married we joined a non-denominational charismatic church that was considered to be very conservative by other charismatics. That was in south Georgia where we lived for the first six years of our marriage.

Then we moved to Upstate New York and attended an Assembly of God church for the eleven months were there. After that we moved to Alabama and spent several months looking for a good charismatic church, but never found one that suited us, so we joined an SBC that a coworker of Mike’s invited us to.

Then in the spring of 1998 we moved to Virginia and began looking for another charismatic or Baptist church. After a long and fruitless search we wound up, through a series of fortunate events which I will not go into here for brevity’s sake, joining a Presbyterian church. And when I say “join” I mean whole hog. It really was another conversion experience and on the day we joined we had all of our children, there were five at the time, baptized, and if you know anything about Southern Baptists and charismatics you’ll realize what a huge change that was.

Into the desert
In the fall of 2001 we were sent to Texas where the nearest Presbyterian church of the same denomination was two hours away. We went there for a couple of months, but really, it was just too much. There was another conservative Presbyterian denomination that was only an hour and a half away, so we visited there for nearly a year. Eventually though, Mike decided that we needed to be part of a community that was closer to home, so we began attending the Traditional service at the base chapel.

This was a good choice for us for another year or so, especially the Wednesday night Bible study and Evening Prayers led by the Lutheran chaplain. But then the base chapel isn’t technically a church and the elders of the Presbyterian church we belonged to in Virginia wanted us to join a real church. Owing to some things that were going on at the chapel we realized that not only should we do what the elders suggested, but do it posthaste.

Knowing my husband had an Episcopal background, someone recommended one of the two Episcopal churches in town—the priest was a friend and very conservative. We tried it and loved it, so we joined there.

In 2005 my husband retired from the military and we moved here (we’re back in Virginia, but three hours away from our former church). After a while we decided that we needed to find a more conservative, or “Traditional,” as Anglican-speech puts it, church, but we wanted to stay within the Anglican tradition, so now we belong to an Anglican church that uses the older Book of Common Prayer—the 1928 one.

We have much to be grateful for. Every church we’ve been touched by has enriched us. Love of Scripture from the Baptists. Zeal from the charismatics. Deep wonder at God’s supreme power and goodness from the Presbyterians. The beauty of holiness from the Lutherans.

And from the Anglicans? That’s so hard to define. We didn’t mean to stay Anglican. It was meant to be a temporary lodging until we could get back to the Presbyterians. But after eight years in this tradition, the Anglican church has become our home, with all that that implies and I can’t imagine being anything else now.

I don’t mean to insult anyone else’s church service, and I’ve participated in and been blessed by and loved many different styles of worship, but let me tell you, the Anglicans know How to Do Church. When we visit other churches, we feel like we’ve been to a really good Bible study, good Christian fellowship, but it just doesn’t feel like Church.

Please, please, please don’t take that as an insult to other churches. I’m just telling you how I feel about my own church, and I know you love your church tradition as much as I love mine. At least, I hope you do. Just take it the same way you’d take it if someone said, “No one can make Sunday dinner like my Mama.” You know that’s not really a swipe at your mama.

But now, I think I finally understand what is meant by the term Mother Kirk.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

You can read Part 2 here.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Edited to add:

I've created a new tag "Book of Common Prayer" and have scanned over my older posts trying to tag things that mention the BCP or quote from it. I didn't tag all the Psalms I've posted, but all those Latin titles for the Psalms come from the Psalter in the BCP.

There were a handful where I mentioned it so briefly that I decided not to tag them. Mostly they were short quotes from the book. In the post "Grief, a year later," when I said, "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come," that's from the Nicene Creed, which we recite every Sunday after the Scripture readings.

In a couple of different places I mentioned that some of my favorite words are these:

"With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and all my worldly goods I thee endow," from the 1662 BCP.

"Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again," said by the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer, 1979 BCP.

"These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving," said by the priest while holding the bread and the cup, just after the breaking of the bread, inviting God's people to the Table, 1979 BCP.

Friday, October 14, 2011

This is supposed to be a post about "Men Without Chests."

But my children are clamoring for me to read another chapter of Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood, about an Irish soldier-doctor living in England during the reign of James II who is falsely accused of treason then sold into slavery. Peter Blood has so far quoted Horace and Richard Lovelace (I've had a crush on Lovelace ever since I read "To Lucasta, going to the Wars" in my teens), and is showing us how Courage, Honour, and Kindness behave in adverse circumstances.

I must warn you that this is a dangerous route. My oldest son is an EMT/firefighter, which is scary enough for a mom, but he's also working hard on academics this year so he can be accepted into an ROTC program -- he would love to be a fighter pilot like my hero-uncle was.

So I don't have time to write just now. I have to go pray for my son's success and my own peace of mind. And read more hero stories to my children.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Follow the discussion at Cindy's blog.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October reading plans

I am a hero worshiper. My hero is Alfred the Great whose feast day is the 26th of this month. Every October for several years now we have read G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse during October, and it has become my favorite work of poetry.

I’m going to save Chesterton for later in the month when Eldest Daughter will be back home, but this week I’ll be starting a book about my hero and his times that we’ve never read before—The Marsh King, recommended by Mystie Cindy in her "Literature of Honor for Boys" list.

Chapter 1
“The Witnesses”

Athelstan Redbeard the Dane, King of East Anglia, died suddenly, sitting upright upon his horse, when I was two years old. He was my godfather, so my mother told me; but I have heard that he considered it his right to be godfather to all the children born at his court, so this was a distinction I shared with many. Once every year, on the anniversary of his own baptism, he held a great christening feast in his hall. There my grandfather, Olaf the Skald, would sing the long story of the King’s deeds and battles, as he himself had known them, having stood beside him both as pagan and Christian through most of them.

The three oldest and I will be finishing King Lear when Eldest Daughter returns, and I hadn’t planned what to do after that, but then I remembered that the 25th of the this month is the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, and you know what that means—Henry V. This time I’m taking a cue from Cindy and going to show Kenneth Branagh’s version of the play first, then read it, then show Laurence Olivier’s version. We’ve watched both of those and we’ve read the play before, but I’ve never done them back-to-back like that.

I’ve been reading E. Nesbit’s and Charles and Mary Lamb’s retellings (Amazon has free Kindle editions of both of those books!) to the younger four children but I don’t remember ever reading them The Real Thing. I think we’ll do that this term with Henry V. When we read Shakespeare, we take parts. #1 Son likes doing accents, but the girls and I don’t much. We each sometimes have to read more than one character per scene so I usually do voices—you know, altering my pitch and pace and so forth to fit the character. I’m going to ask my twelve year old daughter if she wants a part—she’s a good reader.

Cumberland Books sells six of Shakespeare’s plays (scroll all the way down) in very inexpensive volumes—75¢ to $1.50—so you can buy enough copies for all your readers. You can probably find the plays online and print them off yourself, but I’ve never looked for them.

For the rest, I’m still reading through Ambleside Online’s Year Three with the younger ones, and the older ones are continuing their own studies, so I won’t have any more planning to do till November.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

C.S. Lewis's Debunkers

Cindy is leading a discussion of C.S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man, and what “debunking” means is being discussed.

This is the Oxford American Dictionary’s definition of debunk: to expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief); to reduce the inflated reputation of (someone), esp. by ridicule.

C.S. Lewis’s stories are full of debunkers and I’ve pulled a number of quotes to give you an idea of what he means by that term as he uses it in The Abolition of Man.

From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
“You can’t always believe what Fauns say,” said Edmund, trying to sound as if he knew far more about them than Lucy.

“Who said so?” asked Lucy.

“Everyone knows it,” said Edmund; “ask anybody you like.”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“Probably,” he thought, “this is the great Lion Aslan that they were all talking about. She’s caught him already and turned him into stone. So that’s the end of all their fine ideas about him! Pooh! Who’s afraid of Aslan?”

And he stood there gloating over the stone lion, and presently he did something very silly and childish. He took a stump of lead pencil out of his pocket and scribbled a moustache on the lion’s upper lip and then a pair of spectacles on its eyes. Then he said, “Yah! Silly old Aslan! You thought yourself mighty fine, didn’t you?”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“Why, he’s only a great cat after all!” cried one.

“Is that what we were afraid of?” said another.

And they surged around Aslan, jeering at him, saying things like, “Puss, Puss! Poor Pussy,” and “How many mice have you caught today, Cat?” and “Would you like a saucer of milk, Pussums?”

From Prince Caspian
“Eh? What’s that?” he said. “What old days do you mean?”

“Oh, don’t you know, Uncle?” said Caspian. “When everything was quite different. When all the animals could talk, and there were nice people who lived in the streams and the trees. Naiads and Dryads they were called. And there were Dwarfs. And there were lovely little Fauns in all the woods. They had feet like goats. And—”

“That’s all nonsense, for babies,” said the King sternly. “Only fit for babies, do you hear? You’re getting too old for that sort of stuff…. And never let me catch you talking—or thinking either—about all those silly stories again. There never were those Kings and Queens. How could there be two Kings at the same time? And there’s no such person as Aslan. And there are no such things as lions. And there never was a time when animals could talk. Do you hear?”

From The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.”

“Golly,” said Edmund, under his breath. “He’s a retired star.”

“Aren’t you a star any longer?” asked Lucy.

“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu….

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

From The Silver Chair
“What is this sun that you all speak of? Do you mean anything by the word?” …

“Please it your Grace,” said the Prince, very coldly and politely. “You see that lamp. It is round and yellow and gives light to the whole room; and hangeth moreover from the roof. Now that thing which we call the sun is like the lamp, only far greater and brighter. It giveth light to the whole Overworld and hangeth in the sky.”

“Hangeth from what, my lord?” asked the Witch; and then, while they were all still thinking how to answer her, she added, with another of her soft, silver laughs: “You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children’s story.”

From The Horse and His Boy
“What’s it got to do with you if she is [a Talking Horse]?” said the strange rider fiercely, laying hand on sword-hilt. But the voice in which the words were spoken had already told Shasta something.

“Why, it’s only a girl!” he exclaimed.

“And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl?” snapped the stranger. “You’re probably only a boy: a rude, common little boy—a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse.”

“That’s all you know,” said Shasta.

From The Magician’s Nephew
[W]hat you see and hear depends a great deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.

…When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble with trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.

From The Last Battle
“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see!... No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

… “Do you mean you don’t believe in the real Aslan?” said Jill. “But I’ve seen him. And he has sent us two here out of a different world.”

“Ah,” said Griffle with a broad smile. “So you say. They’ve taught you your stuff all right. Saying your lessons, ain’t you?”

That’s without digging deeply, and I was going to type quotes from his other stories that I’ve read: Till We Have Faces, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and That Hideous Strength, but I’m tired of typing. Those books are just full of it. You should read them all, but especially That Hideous Strength, if you want to see what the abolition of man looks like and how men without chests behave.

Follow the discussion at Cindy’s blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I would like to do an average day post...

but we don't seem to have any average days right now.

Tuesday is our crazy day. I'm actually having to use Google Calendar because we're so busy this term.

I was up at six (which isn't average for me this time of year -- I tend to get up with the sun and right now the sun isn't up till seven) so I read for a while. I'm re-reading CS Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress. Then I started breakfast and a load of laundry (usually laundry comes later in the day, but Mike needed a clean undershirt. OOPS! I still haven't gotten used to my new washer. I hate it. It's not simple and obedient like my old one and I'm having to change my laundry habits in order to accommodate it.)

Ate breakfast, sent Hubby off to work (with a clean undershirt that was found at the bottom of a basket of clean clothes on top of the dryer), cleaned a little.

Called family to prayers. We use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer because we're used to it, but we're using the Lectionary from the 1928 since that's the prayer book our current church uses. We have a Psalm every day, plus an Old Testament and a New Testament reading, but we got behind and everyone wants to hear the OT stories (we're in II Samuel reading about David's exploits) so we're skipping the NT readings for now.

The OT reading reminded my 12 year old daughter of the story of Perseus in Charles Kingsley's book The Heroes, which we read last spring, so we talked about it, and that led us to our Wall Chart of World History to find when the Trojan War happened (less than a hundred years before King David).

By then it was ten o'clock and time for the three music students to leave for their lesson. The three remaining children and I went back to the kitchen to finish cleaning it while listening to Beethoven's 7th Symphony, and then a friend dropped by for half an hour or so. I haven't seen her in a few weeks so we had a lot of catching up to do. The younger kids played a few rounds of their Monopoly game in the living room while we chatted in the dining room. I sent her off with a half gallon of goat milk.

Then the music students came back home and I remembered that I hadn't fixed any lunch yet (OOPS! I'm still used to Eldest Daughter being here and taking care of that), so we we cooked a chicken/spinach/ricotta cheese dish, but it wasn't finished before the two older girls had to leave for their drama class, so I gave them some money so they could buy fast food on the way (sigh).

I don't remember what I did after that. I know I spent some time on the computer and then I laid down for a while. I also spent fifteen or twenty minutes with my eleven year old son who's playing baseball for the first time this fall, helping him with his batting. Then I went to doctor my injured finger and decided it really was infected and I should call the real doctor, so I did and the nurse said "Come now." Took my Kindle with me and read a couple of chapters of Thomas Shields' The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard while waiting for Doctor C.

Got back home at four; #1 Son went to pick up his sisters from drama; I took Baseball Son (along with two of his sisters) to practice, then went to Walmart to get my prescription filled (another round of antibiotics, and this time it's completely my fault; I injured my finger on purpose. That is, I asked #1 Son to do it. Long story, but I have cyst or something under the skin of the middle finger on my right hand -- my pencil-holding finger, you see, and it's right in that spot, which makes it uncomfortable. Well, I had this brilliant idea: instead of wasting time and money going to the doctor about it, why don't I just cut it open myself and let the cyst out? Only I'm not brave enough to cut myself, so I asked Son to do it for me and being a good boy, he did. Only the cyst didn't come out -- it's attached, which I was not expecting at all. That's not the bad part though. I was planning to let it heal up and then go to the doctor and let him remove it properly, only my bandage would get wet from doing housework and I wouldn't get around to putting on a fresh bandage until bedtime... so it got infected. Yes, I took a lot of ribbing from the doctor about DIY surgery. He wasn't best pleased, but he's a grandfatherly sort of man and didn't make me feel like a criminal for doing it.)

Went back to the park for the rest of ball practice, came home, ate supper, listened to Hubby reading The Hobbit to the younger four, and wasted another hour in front of the computer. Where I still am, typing this report of our non-average day.

This wasn't even an average Tuesday, what with the doctor and all.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, the children did their farm chores -- looking for eggs, milking the goats and straining and chilling the milk (twice), walking the dog, bringing the goats home when they escaped over the fence... stuff like that. I noticed my twelve-year-old reading Diana Wynne Jones's Dogsbody. My eighteen year old daughter spent some time singing into the computer so she could analyze her voice and improve it. #1 Son spent at least an hour on his algebra and another reading Clarence Carson's Basic American Government and working on his paper. The youngest two spent a lot of time adding up Monopoly money and figuring rents.

I never meant to be an unschooler, but it seems that we are by default.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Their skills have improved somewhat in the last five years

[From the archives, because I’m taking an antibiotic right now and feel generally lousy, but want to post something cheerful – originally posted April 28, 2006.]

Small children playing 20 questions

Child A: “I’m thinking of something.”
Child B: “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”
Child A: “Mineral.”
Child C: “What is it?”
Child A: “Our goats! Your turn.”

Child C: “I’m thinking of something.”
Child A: “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”
Child C: “Mama, is the table mineral?”
Mama: “No, it’s vegetable.”
Child C: “Vegetable.”
Child B: “Is it the table?”
Child C: “Yes!”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Grief, a year later

One thing I’ve learned in the year since my sister’s death is that it didn’t cause a new wound – it reopened the wound that was made when my brother was murdered, and it’s a wound that will never heal, this side of the Jordan.

The last time I spoke to Johnny was over the phone on my 24th birthday. As we said goodbye I told him I would call him on his birthday, eleven days after mine. Instead, we buried him. It’s been nearly twenty-two years now. This December he will have been dead as long as he was alive. When he died, the only person who had shared my childhood died, and in a sense, my childhood died with him.

My sister was nearly thirteen years younger than I was and I loved mothering her. When I had children of my own I’d tell people that Anne Marie was my first baby, not even half-joking. I almost didn’t marry – for her sake. Things were getting even rougher between my parents and I was worried about leaving her.

Instead, she spent every spring break and summer with me until she was fifteen or sixteen. She even lived with me and went to school in our town for a semester during our parents’ divorce, a year after our brother died. And the year Mike was in Alaska alone and I was in Georgia with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler, she lived with me to help with my children, and I home schooled her.

I saw her faith in the Lord from the time she was quite small. I saw her struggles as she reached adolescence, and when she began to pull away from me as a teen I tried not to take it personally, to let her have her own space while assuring her that I was always there for her. I know she knew how much I loved her. She always called me when she was having any kind of trouble to ask me to pray for her.

But I can’t stop the questions. “Why didn’t I…?” and “What if…?” and “Shouldn’t I have…?” Surely, if I had been a better sister, a better Christian, all this suffering could have been avoided.

In those last months of her second struggle with leukemia, following a bout of breast cancer, I saw her faith grow. She talked about being ready to be with Jesus. I know she’s safe with him now. I know she’s not suffering any more. I’ve seen the good fruit she’s borne through her death, in the newfound faith of one of her best friends.

I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. And that’s the only thing that makes the pain of loss bearable – knowing that it’s not forever.

But really, that knowledge doesn’t stop the ache of loss. I want my sister to know the joys of marriage and motherhood. I want the hollow, hungry look to go out of my mother’s eyes. I want my Baby back.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So, how's your day been?

We just had an earthquake -- a 5.9, reportedly, centered about fifty miles southwest of here. Lotta rumbling and rattling, but nothing worse, thank the Lord.

My son, who's a volunteer fire and rescue guy, went straight down to the station when it was over, and for the last half an hour it's been non-stop sirens on our highway. I hope it's just lines or trees down, and no injuries.

Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

We started back to school last week, taking it slow and easy. I never begin on a Monday, and I never begin with more than a half day. I’ve had health problems for the last several years that mean I’m tired and low-energy most of the time, so this is my way of coping – start slowly and work my way up, hoping the stamina will come. Thankfully, I’ve finally found a doctor I like and she’s helping me.

Over the summer we finished memorizing Edgar Allan Poe’s “Eldorado,” so yesterday we started a new one, my current favorite:

Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
~William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

I’m starting back to school myself, on next Monday. I signed up for James Taylor’s introduction to the Major British and American Poets through CiRCE’s Online Academy. I’m so excited that for the first two days after I signed up I actually wept whenever I thought about it. Sheesh.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Comparisons are odious

[Every once in a while, when the mood strikes, I'll add posts from my old, defunct blog on to this one in their proper historical places. Today I ran across one that was originally posted in May of 2008 and decided to repost it. Because I haven't changed any.]

My oldest children participate in a community chorus that focuses on the great music of the Church, historical and contemporary, putting on a concert twice each year. Every spring the director has the graduating seniors sing a special song together, and she includes a brief bio on each in the program.

Well, the spring concert was last night and Elaienar [aka Eldest Daughter] was included in the “graduating senior” group even though if I had to get technical about it I’d say she finished 12th grade last year. I didn’t think about mentioning it to the director back then since Elai was busy with other things that spring and high school graduation would be, for us, a rather artificial way of marking our children’s milestones. But we had no objection to her being part of the graduating group, since this is the last year she’ll be singing with the group as a student. If she continues to sing with them, it will be as a mentor.

Unfortunately, we’d forgotten about the bio, so when Elai was asked to write one up at the last moment, she wrote one that was short on facts but long on wit. I thought it portrayed her personality in a way that a list of facts wouldn’t do.

But the dear director, bless her heart and we do love her to pieces, doesn’t share Elai’s quirky sense of humor, so the bio that was written up in the program was nothing like what she had written. It was sweet and affectionate, but it looked so dull next to everyone else’s lists of accomplishments and awards and honors and scholarships and where they’re all going to college. If I’d known it was going to be rewritten I’d’ve had her supply more facts to pad it.

You may not believe this, but I actually woke up this morning with a sick tummy because it was bothering me so.

When I’m at home doing what we’ve set out to do, I’m reasonably happy with what we’re doing and I like the way things are working out. It’s just when these occasions where it’s impossible not to make a comparison occur that I doubt and second-guess the Lord’s leading. And I don’t like being different – it’s so uncomfortable. Really, I just want to fit in… I want everyone else to like me and approve of me. Elai says I have an inferiority complex – she’s not worried about the bio at all because she honestly doesn’t care what other people think about her and her abilities.


See, I should make this into a post that encourages other people to trust the Lord.

Something spiritual.

Like my favorite bloggers would do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world

In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created thee.
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed thee.
In the Name of the Holy Ghost who sanctifieth thee.
May thy rest be this day in peace, and thy dwellingplace in the Paradise of God.

Jewell C., 24 June 1909 - 3 August 2011

My husband's dear sweet grandmother passed peacefully into the arms of her Saviour today. Thankfully, we knew she would be leaving us soon, and Mike and our oldest son were able to go to her on Sunday and stay with her till the end.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This afternoon my son made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but it was too hot to turn on the oven, so we just ate the dough raw. :-)

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Owing to a late spring and an even later start with the garden, we just got our first tomatoes today. I'm telling you, I bit into one and thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

If you ask me, the only reason even to have summer is so you can eat fresh, warm-from-the-garden, home-grown tomatoes. Without growing your own tomatoes you're just getting hot and sweaty for nothing.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

This morning Mike and I went to an Amish grocery store we'd heard about. They have spices in large quantities for really good prices, so I stocked up on a few things I was out of -- celery seed, turmeric, paprika -- and bought a quarter pound of parsley, because you can never have too much parsley.

I also bought, for the first time ever, a tub of lard. I used it to cook our salmon patties for supper tonight and they turned out well. I'm glad to have another fat to add to my inventory. I've read that animal fats are the best for frying in since they can take the heat.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

We're raising ducks for the first time and several of them have turned out to be males, so we should have plenty of duck fat this winter. Sally Fallon says duck fat is the best thing in the world to cook potatoes in.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

My two oldest are in town tonight and they're going to go by the big grocery store while they're there to see if they can buy some things that I'm not able to get in the stores in our rural county: cream of coconut, macadamia nuts, instant espresso powder, plus a couple of other things. Tomorrow I'm going to make either Mystie's Intense Coffee Ice Cream or Coconut Macadamia Ice Cream for our Sunday treat, depending on which ingredients they're able to find. We bought the cream this morning from the man who butchered our pig a few years ago.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

While we were in Amish country we also bought a gallon of milk from pastured cows from a man we get milk from when our goats aren't producing enough, or when I want cow milk. (We would have bought the cream from him too, but he was out, and sent us to the butcher.) I'm going to try making yogurt with it because I don't like the way our goat-milk yogurt turns out.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

My sous chef and I have been in a food rut for the last year -- kind of bored with everything, not interested in coming up with meal plans, wondering why we have to eat every day anyway, let alone three times every day. Today, I'm loving food again.

I like it better this way. :-)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer school

So, yesterday morning after reviewing all his phonograms and other memory work (Psalm 8, the seventh day of the creation week, The Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13, the latter portion of Ephesians chapter 4, Pater Noster, and Poe's "Eldorado"), and having a handwriting lesson, I sent John outside to run around the house three times while I set up his French lesson. I've found that his eleven-year-old mind works better when his body has had some recent exercise, and it had already been more than an hour since he'd finished helping with milking the goats and putting them out to pasture, investigating the death of a chicken, taking the dog for a walk, and collecting and taking out the trash.

His run took a lot longer than I'd expected and when he came in he was mad as a hornet. Four of the goats had gotten out and gone to our neighbor's house to feast on their apple trees, and while running up the path through the woods to get them, he'd been stung twice by yellow jackets. I put baking soda on his wounds and sent him back out to find another way around. No good. The yellow jackets were stirred up all along the ridge he has to cross to get to the neighbor's.

Naturally I panicked and called my husband. Then, having sent John and Nathan on one more vain excursion, I fitted them out in ad hoc beekeeper's gear: jeans tucked into socks, a cowboy hat with a sheer curtain draped over it and tucked inside a jacket, plus a pair of gloves. By the time Mike got home, John had brought Psyche, the herd queen, home, and penned her up and the other three were following... slowly, but since the queen had gone home, they were on their way, too.

While the guys were out managing the mischief, I made half a gallon of lemonade to serve them when they came back inside. It's awfully hot here now -- in the 90s and muggy. It was past lunch time by then and my two oldest had come back from the library, so we made quesadillas and Mike went back to work.

It was nearly 2 o'clock by the time we finished eating and I didn't feel like doing anything else, so, remembering that Tuesday was the day that The Eagle was supposed to be in the Redbox, I sent Number One Son out to pick it up, and we spent the rest of the afternoon watching it. My three youngest girls are at their grandmother's and they're going to be sorry they missed the movie.

Oh, the two oldest were at the library because Eldest Daughter had an internet class which began at 11:00 (James Taylor's short story class through CiRCE and those of you who didn't sign up for it ought to be ashamed of yourselves), and our internet was down. We have this theory that our local provider houses the equipment in a leaky basement because service goes down whenever the weather gets a little damp.

Today we saw a bluebird in the bird bath and stood watching it for a while. Other than that, it was less exciting than yesterday, but we didn't accomplish much more.

I'm not worried though. It's too hot to do anything besides stand and stare.

I'm enjoying the time off, but I am looking forward to the fall, when all the children are home again and we get back into our cozy routine.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

In her post Video Games, Home Education, and the U.S. Supreme Court, Brandy discusses what is being called the third wave of home school persecution, and has encouraging things to say.

In the course of her post she mentions the earlier days when “socialization” was the big issue that home schoolers had to deal with, but then explains that this newer form of persecution is based on the fact that when a parent educates his own children at home, he is passing his own ideas down to his children, and those ideas might be dangerous or unacceptable.

But I’ve come to believe that this is what the whole socialization argument was about – not that home schooled children won’t know how to interact politely with other people on an individual basis, but that they won’t know how to fit into Society at large, meaning, they won’t grow up to be good contributors to the national economy.

The other night we were at Home Depot looking at new flooring for our kitchen and the young woman who was helping us, mentioned the installation fee a couple of times. After a while, when we’d finished picking out what we wanted, she said something about calling to schedule installation, but I said, “Oh, I have a son – he does all my installation.”

She responded with mock horror at the idea of us not paying someone to do our work, and I said, laughing, “I know – our family is so bad for the economy.”

And this is the point: As soon as you figure out that you can raise your own kids from infancy to adulthood without needing a paid professional to do it for you, you figure out that there are scads of things you can do yourself, and those kids grow up assuming that doing things as frugally and as independently as possible is the way Normal people function. They pay for fewer and fewer services, and in a service economy, if everybody did that, where would we be? This, I believe, is what so many fear about parents educating their own children at home.

One of the first times we visited George Washington’s birthplace, one of the blacksmiths was telling visitors about how economically independent from Britain the Virginians strove to be, refining their own iron ore, for example, and forging it into the necessary items, instead of sending the ore the England to be refined and forged there, as Parliament wished. In fact, Parliament wanted all raw materials to be sent to England for processing, and then bought back (as value-added products, in today’s speech) by the colonists. So the colonists were supposed to raise sheep and harvest the wool, but send it straight to England for carding, spinning, and weaving into cloth which would then be purchased by the colonists to make their clothes from. The same with timber, which the colonists were expected to harvest and ship to England, to be turned into the lumber and shingles they would buy to build their houses and barns with.

But at the Pope’s Creek Plantation, where George Washington was born, all of the family’s basic needs were provided by the farm. The plantation functioned like a village, with a blacksmith shop, a spin shop (for spinning, dying, and weaving wool and flax). Cobblers and carpenters had their shops, too. Most of the Virginia plantations worked this way, and allowed their craftsmen, who were nearly all indentured servants and slaves, to hire themselves out to locals who needed their labor. In this way, local communities provided for all of their basic needs. Wealthy families bought luxuries from Britain when they shipped their tobacco harvest to London, but not the daily necessities Parliament wanted them to buy, such as cloth for everyday clothes, lumber, and hardware.

Well, this blacksmith, in giving us this history lesson, remarked that, “When a people have gained economic freedom, political freedom won’t be far behind.”

That’s something to keep in mind this weekend, as we celebrate our political independence from Great Britain.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Ascension Day!

Here’s something by John Donne (1572-1631).


        Salute the last and everlasting day,
        Joy at the uprising of the Sunne, and Sonne,
        Yee whose just teares, or tribulation
        Have purely washt, or burnt your drossie clay;
        Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
        Lightens the darke clouds, which hee treads upon,
        Nor doth hee by ascending, show alone,
        But first hee, and hee first enters the way.
        O strong Ramme, which hast batter’d heaven for mee,
        Mild lambe, which with thy blood, hast mark’d the path;
        Bright torch, which shin’st, that I the way may see,
        Oh, with thy owne blood quench thy owne just wrath,
        And if thy holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
        Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

This poem is the last in a cycle of seven sonnets on the life of Christ. In each sonnet, the last line is the first line of the next in the cycle, so in this one, the last line, “Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise” is the first line of the first sonnet in the cycle. I’ll try to remember to post all seven of them over the course of seven days next April for National Poetry Month.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Conversation as education

Poetic Knowledge(Follow the discussion of Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education, by James S. Taylor at Mystie's blog)

In chapter six Taylor gives another example of what teaching in the poetic mode has looked like in recent times, this time by describing the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, a two-year program for freshmen and sophomores at the University of Kansas, which ran for a decade and a half or so beginning in the early 1970s.

Three professors would gather with the students for twice-weekly meetings which consisted of the students listening intently (no note-taking!) to an hour and twenty minute long conversation between the professors.

The conversations were, by design, unrehearsed and spontaneous, begun by simply taking up some moment from the Odyssey, or from Herodotus, or The Republic that interested one of the teachers, then exploring it with anecdotes, stories, connections with other readings, following where ever the theme took them. [p.147]

The example of these professors, teaching by way of their personal conversation, speaking as naturally as if around a table where a leisurely lunch was taking place, making quick connections with the similar and contrary ideas, or meandering, wandering around and around the topic, digressing to personal experiences, relevant to the subject—all taught the students, indirectly at least, the joy of the memory and a healthy independence from books and notes and all the gimmicks so often used to keep this generation’s attention. [p.149]

They made use of concrete examples from everyday life, from traditional life, from childhood, all to give a vicarious experience of philosophy, history, and so on. [p.151]

During the rest of the week, poetry, Latin, and songs were taught orally. The students learned calligraphy and spent evenings star-gazing and learning the Greek myths associated with the constellations. They read history and literature, and were taught Rhetoric using Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s fairy tales.

Each spring the students organized a waltz. They gave each other dance lessons, hired an orchestra, reserved the University ballroom. Many of the young women sewed their own evening gowns.

This program was “not an attempt to advance knowledge at all,” but was meant to lay the foundation for advanced studies. For this reason philosophy and theology as such weren’t taught, because, “while it is possible to train youth in the rigors of formal philosophy, what one often gets as a result, without the prior humanizing of the poetic mode, are disputatious young students.”

Instead the profressors’ goal was, in part, to help the students relive aspects of their childhood, “that time of leisure in which the wonders of reality are encountered simply as wonders. As this entire study has demonstrated, there can be no real advancement in knowledge unless it first begin in leisure and wonder, where the controlling motive throughout remains to be delight and love.”

A lot of this is the kind of thing the mother educating her children at home can do herself—reading stories, memorizing poetry and songs together, lying in the yard at night watching the stars… even teaching calligraphy, which is something I’ve never even thought about. I’ve barely bothered to teach good penmanship, and I guess I should remedy that.

But it seems to me that the core aspect, the conversations between the professors, is the hardest to reproduce at home, especially in the early years. I have the advantage of grown children at home who are still studying with me, so my younger children get to sit in on this kind of conversation regularly, both during our Morning Time, and during meals.

We have a rule that the younger children are not allowed to speak during supper, the only meal when Daddy is at home, so that they can listen to the grown-ups talking. It’s not a hard and fast rule—on occasion Mike will ask one of the younger ones to tell him something interesting that they learned that day—but I’ve found that when the little ones are allowed to chatter they’ll drown out everything else at the table with their silliness. I tolerate an awful lot of silliness during the day, but I want supper to be civilized. At this season of my life that means a table cloth, candles, real dishes and glasses and silverware, and occasionally playing good music in the background, but most of all, good manners and real conversation.

If you’re a sleep-deprived young mom, you may not be able to set the table like I’m able to now. We used a lot of paper plates when my children were all little, and still use paper napkins most of the time to keep from making the laundry burden even greater. But you can begin to teach your young children good table manners by setting the example yourself. Beginning the meal with a prayer of thanks and singing the Doxology will help set the tone.

When I had four children under the age of six, mealtime conversation wasn’t very edifying unless we had company. When it’s just Mama and Daddy and Babies, Mama and Daddy tend to focus on the babies’ behavior at the meal and forget to talk about anything, never mind the fact that they might not have anything much to talk about besides the children’s and coworkers’ antics. But having company over always changed all that for us, especially having over two or three single young adults.

The important thing is that the atmosphere should be “meditative, not disputatious.”

If all else fails, try Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. :-)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Experience not formulas

One of my early influences on the way I raise my children was Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book Home Grown Kids. The Moores are known for their “delayed academics” approach, encouraging parents to let their children have plenty of time to play, to give them opportunities for real work around the house and yard, and to read good stories to them.

“Delayed academics” doesn’t mean NO academics; it just means to wait until they’re developmentally ready to handle formal study, which varies from child to child. The hard part of this for the home schooling mom is that it requires her to pay careful attention to each child’s needs and tailor their academic studies accordingly. It also means that if you have a child who doesn’t read well until he’s eight or ten or twelve years old (and I’ve had a couple of those) you’re going to hear from the grandparents and concerned friends, so you have to be pretty confident that you know what you’re doing.

That’s one reason why I’ve loved reading Poetic Knowledge, and Charlotte Mason’s books. They remind me that Mike and I really do know what we’re doing with our kids.

But they also keep me from becoming complacent—there’s always room for improvement. Poetic Knowledge is so full of ideas that I can’t even begin make good use of them all. All those ideas are just composting in the back of my mind, but I trust that my own soul will be nurtured and I’ll be better able to nurture my children’s as a result.

One idea that Taylor has presented throughout the book is what he calls “gymnastic.” I’m trying to get a handle on this because it’s something I’ve never realized was an important part of every child’s education. By “gymnastic” he doesn’t mean taking gymnastics classes and learning tumbling and so forth, although that could certainly be a good avenue if it suits your family. On page 142, Taylor defines “gymnastic” by quoting French educator Henri Charlier:

The essential of gymnastics is the training to race, including different types of jumps and climbs. But physical labor must be added, which gives resistance, brings one back to the hard realities of life.

Physical labor I can do—we have plenty of yard work and caring for animals to go around. Training to race, though. I think I need to talk to my oldest son when he gets back home and see if he can help me out.

Here’s an aspect of it that I feel more confident of ability to teach:

In the ancient times and in all the middle ages, music was a part of the studies…. For the Greeks, the word ‘music’ meant poetry, music, and dance, all at the same time. They never separated them…. Dance is the best way for youngsters to calm their senses and control this violence of a young vitality which they usually use in a wrong way. We re not speaking of the dancing of dance halls, but of outdoor dancing; the ancient folk dances.

For our family, that’s just a matter of building on things we’re already doing: learning to play musical instruments, participating in a community chorus of sacred music, singing prayers and hymns at home, square-dancing in the dining room and sometimes on the lawn.

The point of all this, the way it relates to a good education, is that it gives the child (and the adult who’s remediating himself, like me!) the proper foundation of experience in the real world to build upon. Charlier says that “it is indispensable that teaching break loose from a sort of academic letters of thought…. Teaching must fill up with intellectual experience and not with ready-made formulas.”

Taylor says:

This is not unlike the understanding Socrates had for the necessity of what he called “gymnastic” for his beginners, to learn the interdependence of the sensory faculties in contact with nature and crafts. This is learning in the poetic mode, and for Charlier, to learn by the language alone is simply the opposite of gymnastic and the logic of crafts. Language means the realm of formulas and general ideas bereft of the their actual antecedents. Under such teaching, there will be no images offered to the memory of the real things placed there by actual experience of the way things are…. [O]ne cannot simply think; one has to think about some thing.

So, give your children plenty of real play in the out of doors, and plenty of real, useful, work to do around the house and yard. Sing with them. Teach them the childhood games you played, like “London Bridge.” Teach them how to sip the nectar out of honeysuckle. Enjoy the journey together.

Poetic Knowledge(Follow the discussion of Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education, by James S. Taylor at Mystie's blog)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Beating the bounds

The Gospel reading for next Sunday, the fifth Sunday after Easter, is John 16:23-33, which begins, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” The Latin word for ask is rogare, and so this Sunday is known in liturgical churches as “Rogation Sunday.”

For centuries, churches celebrated this Sunday and the following three days by walking around the parish boundaries, praying for good weather, for a good harvest, and for the Lord’s protection over the people. In order to be sure that the memory of those boundaries was passed on to the coming generations, boys walking in the procession would carry sticks and beat the stones or trees that served as markers.

Most of us don’t live in geographically contiguous parishes any more, and more’s the pity. But there are still meaningful ways to observe this season, and my bishop has included several ideas in an email he sent out yesterday, which I have reproduced here, with his permission. I especially like his idea of blessing soil for each parishioner to take home—it reminds me of the soil of Lothlórien that Galadriel gave to Samwise to take back to the Shire, but I suppose Tolkien meant for the imagery to work in the other direction. :-D

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“beating the bounds of men’s hearts”

Rogation Sunday and the 400th Anniversary of Our Bible.

This Sunday I encourage us all to pray for a good harvest from our fields and a spiritual harvest of souls. Too, I ask that we remember those who suffer from natural disasters... tornados, fire and flood.

This Sunday begins a little known season in the Church calendar not fully understood nor practiced: Rogationtide. It is a time for asking God for bountiful harvests, beginning Sunday and continuing through Tuesday.

2011 marks the 400th Anniversary of the most printed and widely circulated book in the world. In May of 1611 the Authorized Version (King James) of the HOLY BIBLE was introduced into the Church of England. This book is without question the most significant book in the history of civilization. How do these two relate, Rogation and the Bible? I will explain.

Rogation is an ancient service forgotten in many churches. Its early use was when most people farmed and depended upon the harvest for their sustenance. Now most of us think little of raising vegetables, fruits, wheat, hay and nuts to sustain our lives. We take for granted that the supermarkets will have what we need. We do not ask God to protect cattle, lambs and chickens from disease since we don’t see the effect if animals become ill and die. We suffer no personal loss or so we think. Unless the cost of our food and other agriculturally related items increases.

Rogation Sunday tradition for those who practice it is the same today as in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. She instructed by Royal Injunctions Rogation processions of clergy and parishioners to “beat the bounds” praying for a good harvest. “Beating the bounds” means walking around your property lines and praying that God will bless your harvest and protect you from evil.

Rogation prayers started in the sixth century in Rome and by the eighth century it was fully an Anglo Saxon tradition. This tradition is spelled out in Massey Shepherd’s Commentary on the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer on page 261.

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday after Easter and Rogation Sunday found on page 175 of the BCP is as follows.

“O Lord, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”

And on pages 39, 40 and 41 we have prayers For Fruitful Seasons, Rain, Fair Weather, and In time of Dearth and Famine.

Prayers from The Litany are appropriate in view of the numbers of recent deaths suffered in natural disasters and war. Page 54 of the BCP,

“From lightning and tempest: from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.

Question: How can we follow the Rogation tradition when most of us are not connected directly to farming and crop production? Answer: we are all part of God’s creation!

I suggest this custom be taught. Parishioners bring a pinch of soil to the church building and place it in a basin at the church door. The soil is taken to the Altar and blessed by the priest. After the service each person may take a little soil home. The vestry may provide bags for soil and soil for those who may have forgotten or did not know to bring any.

At home the soil is spread on gardens, plants, crops or in potted plants while reading the 51st Psalm. The Gloria Patri is said after the Psalm. The priest may encourage people to place a small cross in the garden where the soil is distributed. Crosses can be blessed but do not have to be. Prayers are not only for our individual gardens but for a fruitful nation, for farmers who serve us and for all who sustain us by their toil. See the Priest Manual for blessings.

Sermons are usually related to growth, planting, gardening, and plant life. God’s promise of new life is not only for plants and farm animals but is for the protection of our souls as well. Note several hymns from the 1940 Hymn Book (numbers 138, 101, 497, 311, 315 [n.b.“We plow the fields and scatter,” “O Jesus, crowned with all renown,” “O God of Bethel, by whose hand,” “All things bright and beautiful,” and “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” respectively. Kelly.]) can be sung for Rogation Sunday.

The church yard is another option for “beating the bounds.” The congregation may visit a friend’s farm or walk the boundaries of their own property or apartments and “beat the bounds.”

It is important for Anglicans to not only pray for good harvests and for the victims of famines, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, winter storms and tornados in the United States but also for people abroad.

Lastly, there is His harvest which He calls us to and this is the harvest of men’s Souls. He reminds us in the Bible that “the harvest is great and the workers are few.” Seeds must be planted in the hearts of men. To be a worker in the vineyard is to share and spread nourishment by the dew of the Holy Spirit. In this 400th year of our Holy Bible let us powerfully lead the way.

Please, where ever you are, will you join with me in the “beating of the bounds” of men’s hearts?

Email and let me know. larrywjohnson@embarqmail.com

In the Name of our Savior and Advocate, Jesus Christ. Amen

+Larry Johnson


Saturday, May 21, 2011

New blog name

What do y’all think?

Yes, there’s a story behind it, but I’ll tell it later.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Seasonal challenges in the home school

When I wrote that over-long post about our mini-farm the other day I meant for it to be this post, but I thought I’d better give some background information and it just grew into a post of its own.

So this is the post I meant to write.

When the weather is fine we like to have school outside.

[Our outdoor school room, under two pecan trees and one black walnut, between the house and garage-cum-barn. This is another picture from years ago—all the jungle beyond the yard and smoke house has been fenced in and eaten by the goats. Beyond that is the woods.]

On other fine days I might cancel school so we can be outside playing, but in the spring we often have to be out working. Monday is our regular yard work day. Normally my oldest son takes care of most of it, but it’s work I like doing so I’ll spend a couple of hours mowing each week, and I take care of nearly all of the seasonal pruning. But this year is much harder for two reasons. Life has been so messy the last year and a half that I haven’t pruned anything in all that time, and my oldest son has been with my mom in Arkansas since February.

Even letting the other children share the mowing, we still aren’t able to get it all done in one day, so I’ve only been mowing the acre or so that surrounds the house. You’d think we could get it all done, but that acre-or-so requires that we mow around various flower beds, shrubs, and fruit trees, so it’s a slow job. Much of it can be done on the riding mower, but there’s a lot that has to be done with the push mower and some that can only be done with the weed-eater.

Unfortunately, my missing son is also my mechanic and I’ve been having more trouble with the machines than usual. Mike works on them as he has time, but then most of his work-at-home time is taken up with infrastructure—mending fences, building a new chicken coop, and so forth—and taking care of the animals. My sixteen year old son does most of the milking on weekdays, but Mike does most of it on the weekends, plus he trims hooves, kills and processes poultry, and all of that sort of thing.

Last week I spent nearly the whole Monday and Wednesday pruning things and pulling honeysuckle out of trees and shrubs I don’t want it to kill. My twelve year old daughter and ten year old son mowed but they weren’t able to finish it all. I’d hoped to get back on top of it this week, but Monday was… Well, Eldest Daughter called it “three Mondays rolled into one,” but that’s a story for another time.

Until Number One Son returns late in June it looks like I’m going to have to devote at least two days a week, maybe three, just to maintaining this yard. By the time he gets home the heavy rains and rapid growth will have stopped, so I’m making a note to myself never to let him leave home during the spring again. He’s simply going to have to stay home until he gets his youngest brother trained to take his place. ;-)

In the meantime, when we do have time for academic work, I’m having to shift around what we do. I’ve been using Ambleside Online’s reading lists, with a few modifications, since the summer of 2007, but it takes me a year and a half to two years to get through one year of their recommended reading, so that means that we’re currently on Week 14 of Year 3, having begun last fall.

Every school day we have our prayers, memory work, and poem of the day, so we’re accomplishing more than that confession makes it seem. We’re just moving through the books slowly. But since we’re moving even slower than usual lately I’ve decided to change something about the way this works.

We’re reading a biography of Marco Polo, and instead of reading one chapter a “week,” and by “week” I mean “Ambleside reading list week” not “calendar week,” I’m going to read a chapter each time we have lessons. The same for Children of the New Forest, and I’m going to try to finish a book on ancient China by the end of the month, and when we start the story of Jason and the Argonauts from The Heroes I’m going to try to finish it within a couple of weeks, instead of timing the readings to fit the Ambleside schedule.

Most of the other books don’t lose anything by being strung out—Our Island Story, This Country of Ours, Stories of the Old Dominion—but I’m trying to keep the whole thing from feeling so sporadic, and then when this yard work season is over and we can spend more time at the books, hopefully the schedule won’t seem so daunting.

The good news is that we’ve already finished all the poetry that was planned for Year 3, so I’m reading poems by Edgar Allan Poe, interspersed with poets we’ve already read but love to reread, like Robert Louis Stevenson and A.A. Milne.

My next big challenge will be to figure out how to make consistent time for “drill” work, like math and reading and Latin, which is my great weakness.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Especially for Dana.

This picture was taken a few years ago, but I don't have anything more recent. The tallish white flowering thing beyond the peonies is a flowering almond, which, sadly, means it's ornamental and doesn't produce any nuts. The blossoms are lovely -- some have four and some six petals, cup shaped, with a delicate yellow crown inside, but unfortunately don't have any scent. It's my favorite part of the garden this time of the year, mainly because the the rapturous frangrance of the peonies.

I think I'll go outside and smell them again right now -- they won't last much longer.

Our mini-farm

We have a little over three and a third acres, about half of which is covered in woods. Our house, the garage, smoke house, and surrounding yard and flower and herb gardens take up about half of the rest, and that leaves a largish open place at the back for growing vegetables, playing ball, and keeping chickens, and another spot to the north for other poultry and a goat pasture.

When we first bought the place, the civilized parts around the house and along the driveway were beautifully landscaped, but the rest of it was a tangle of wild rose, sawbriar, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, wild grapes, and I don’t know what all. It was beautiful, but it was infested with black snakes and ticks, and the moths and June bugs were so bad at night that we couldn’t leave any outside lights on or stay out after dark.

My predecessor spent several hours a day maintaining the gardens but I don’t have the time or the talent for that, so the gardens aren’t nearly as pretty as they were six years ago, and we’ve had to remove several things that were just too labor-intensive. But having poultry has nearly eliminated the bug population plus they keep the snakes away from the house. The goats have eaten all the undergrowth so that we have a lot of clear land. The woods are more open to the sun and breezes now so it’s a lot more pleasant in the summer.

Our farm animal population right now consists of eight goats (a wether, four does, and three kids), some chickens (we already had a few males that were for meat, and we just got about a dozen hens and another rooster from a neighbor who is selling out and going to live like gypsies for a year or two), three turkeys (Thanksgiving dinner for us and a friend), a few ducks (for eggs and meat), a gosling, and one guinea hen that is sitting in vain on a well-hidden nest of unfertilized eggs.

Our goats give us all the fresh milk we drink year-round. The first few years we had them, we bred the does in the late summer, then dried them off two months before the kids were due, so we had a few weeks when there was NO MILK. It was awful. After you’ve gotten used to drinking raw milk it’s really really hard to go back to pasteurized milk. During the dry times we bought a few gallons of raw cow milk from an Amish farmer in Maryland, but it’s not only expensive, it’s just not the same as goat milk, which I’ve found I like better than cow milk.

For the last couple of years, we’ve managed this by not breeding all of our does. We have one in particular that “milks through” quite well. That means that she doesn’t have to be bred every year to keep her production up. Many goats are like this and will continue to produce high quality, good tasting milk, unlike cows which have to be bred every year or the flavor of the milk will deteriorate. Production does drop in the winter and I have to ration the milk, but then it comes back up in spring.

My 22 year old daughter has a salad and herb garden along the south-facing side of the house, and she’s moved our raised beds to a location that makes mowing easier for me. She put the beds very close together and mulched between them with old hay and straw from the barn floor, hoping that she can keep the grass out of the beds this way. The one old raised bed that’s still in place has a crop of garlic she planted last fall, so that has to stay until the end of summer. In the new beds she has cabbage, beans, tomatoes, and some herbs that make good companions and help repel pests. She also has a patch of Jerusalem artichokes.

We also have three apple trees, four peaches, and two pears, but the fruit is small and not very good. We have a nice patch of blackberries in the back yard, which finally started blooming a week or so ago. Here’s some folklore for you that has always been reliable: when your blackberries bloom you’re past all danger of frost and can set out your tomatoes. :-)

Well, this is a lot longer than I meant for it to be. I wish I had some nice pictures for you but I don't have anything recent. Even the pix in the mosaic in the sidebar are from a couple of years ago. :-p