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Friday, November 29, 2019

Leaf by NiggleLeaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much wisdom and insight packed into this sweet, short story.
Niggle is a painter, mostly of leaves, but other things, too. Only life is so full of interruptions he can't get down to work at his real task of painting. Before he can complete his life's work, he is called away on the long journey he has always known is coming, but he is unprepared. However unprepared, the carriage has been called for and he must go on his journey, leaving his work unfinished.

But what are the interruptions and what constitutes the real work and purpose of our lives?
Allegory, spiritual parable, masterfully, of course, done by Tolkien. I particularly loved the gentle little poke at people who consider themselves softhearted, by which they really mean other people's troubles make them feel uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable enough to do something about those troubles.

I listened via Audible, it's about forty minutes long which is about five minutes shorter than my drive to church so that's convenient.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 28, 2019


If you are a member at Audible, their 'black Friday' sale is already running.  They have titles on sale for 5, 6, 7, and 8 dollars.  The sale runs through Dec. 3.

Looking through what they have, these are the titles that caught my eye:

Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, narrated by Simon Vance,
Great Gatsby,
Disappearing Spoon,
Being Mortal (my mom and all my daughters recommend this one),
Marie Kondo's book,
a Brandon Sanderson or two,
 Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night,
Gaiman's Norse Mythology,
Wrinkle in Time,
Howell's Moving Castle,
 an Ursula LeGuin,
Gulp by Roach,
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (I read this 3 times in the last year or two and I love it),
Slaughterhouse Five,
All Quiet on the Western Front,
Tom Sawyer,

~*~*~*~*~*~**~Stop the press: The Magician's Nephew~*~*~*~*~*~*~* The Chronicles of Narnia By: C.S. Lewis Narrated by: Kenneth Branagh!!!! We love this.

Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Ancient World.  I do not care for her titles for children. I found them dry.  But her History of the Ancient World is much more interesting.
Screwtape Letters,
Man in the High Castle,
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury,
Anne of Green Gables,
The Divine Comedy, Clive James (translator),Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini,
The Never Ending Story,
Robinson Crusoe (narrated by Simon Vance),
Brown Girl Dreaming
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition, I don't know how the audible version is but I love the book.  I mean, the sample sounds marvelous, so I assume the rest does.  And everybody should definitely read this book.  Or listen to it.
 Picture of Dorian Gray

Several different Great Courses

This one has been on my wishlist, so I bought it: The Warmth of Other Suns, The Epic Story of America's Great Migration By: Isabel Wilkerson

I also had this on my wishlist and bought it: Ancient Civilizations of North America By: Edwin Barnhart, The Great Courses

Britt-Marie was here- this sounded interesting and fairly close to home for me just based on the description- "From the best-selling author of the "charming debut" (People) A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.
Britt-Marie can't stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.
But at 63, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless 40-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally) is a hard adjustment.
As for the citizens of Borg, with everything that they know crumbling around them, the only thing that they have left to hold on to is something Britt-Marie absolutely loathes: their love of soccer. When the village's youth team becomes desperate for a coach, they set their sights on her. She's the least likely candidate, but their need is obvious, and there is no one else to do it.
Thus begins a beautiful and unlikely partnership. In her new role as reluctant mentor to these lost young boys and girls, Britt-Marie soon finds herself becoming increasingly vital to the community. And, even more surprisingly, she is the object of romantic desire for a friendly and handsome local policeman named Sven. In this world of oddballs and misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?
Zany and full of heart, Britt-Marie Was Here is a novel about love and second chances and about the unexpected friendships we make that teach us who we really are and the things we are capable of doing."

It sounds like it could be wickedly funny and interesting.  But it could also go south very easily.  So I took a pass, but I will try to remember to look for it at the library.  

 I really don't want to spend money on modern fiction that hasn't won the right to presume on my time or money.  

My audible purchases tend to be focused on things I think can help me here and now, or things that I won't mind listening to repeatedly, which means I don't even look at mysteries, although that's my favourite escapist reading. 

Hope you find something you can use!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Imagination and Sympathy in the CM Curriculum, part IV

Here's Part III if you need to review.

Imagination is a key element in education, and Mason makes extensive use of it in her curriculum.  Usually we think of imagination as taking form and being exercised most in the creative, self-expressive domains, and that has its place (although it should never become a temple to the self).

Mason and her fellow P.N.E.U. members and teachers, however, spend more time focusing on the uses of imagination in deepening sympathy and understanding for others.  They approach this in many ways.  In this blog post series I am just sharing what I've found about how imagination is cultivated and directed towards compassion and understanding for others in different parts of the curriculum. In this post, we'll look specifically at literature and a few of its subtopics.

Literature: Mason says intellect cannot even walk in the realms of literature without imagination and imagination is required to clear our eyes to understand the literature we read. In vol. 1 Charlotte Mason encourages us to let children 'have their tales of the imagination, scenes laid in other lands and other times, heroic adventures, hairbreadth escapes, delicious fairy tales,'  and she clarifies the purpose of this level of literature.   This is not, she says, for their amusement only, but because tales of imagination that fill the mind squeeze out self-occupation, and "only then are we capable of large hearted action on behalf of another person or cause.” See that?  The right use of imagination squeezes out ignoble thoughts of self. (v1) Mason says we need living books like those tales of the imagination, rather than the typical weak diet of school textbooks, in order to get students who have the sort of moral imagination that enables them to put themselves in another’s place.

"We must read novels, history, poetry, and whatever falls under the head of literature, not for our own 'culture.' Some of us begin to dislike the word 'culture,' and the idea of a 'cultivated' person; any effort which has self as an end is poor and narrow. But there is a better reason for an intimacy with literature as extensive and profound as we can secure. Herein we shall find the reflections of wise men upon the art of living, whether put in the way of record, fable, or precept, and this is the chief art for us all to attain."

Good literature is like travel, it broadens the mind, but as G.K. Chesterton said about travel, first you have to have the mind, the curiosity, the interest.  Then, as we read, we see live from the eyes of a poor barefoot orphan on the Mississippi, from the perspective of an adventurer in South America, a missionary in Africa, an orphaned serf in old Korea, a kidnapped Prince taken from Africa to America, to England, we look at life through the eyes of a young woman bereft of father and fortune in a single night, of a beggar maid, and so much more.  We read the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley and pick up additional interests, perhaps in Colonial America, perhaps in the life of Phyllis herself, perhaps in poetry, other black American poets or in the history of slavery in America, or topics that have not even occurred to me. We read the story of Marco Polo and perhaps become interested in Mongolia, China, in the silk route, in other explorers, in the Khans, or leadership, porcelains, and the middle ages.  We see ourselves in their lives and adventures and consider how we would act, how we should act, if we were to encounter the same challenges.

 It’s important not reverse our goals-  schools today treat books as delivery systems, but good books, living books, are the goal, not the delivery system. As a lit prof says:  "One does not read Dostoevsky to learn about Russian history; one becomes interested in Russian history from reading its classics." Read books because books are worth reading.

Books, living books, fictional or nonfictional, teach us many truths and it requires truth to cultivate and nourish the imagination. 

In the story Mason tells of her first discovery of children as they truly are in their own home environments, and how much that is wonderful and remarkable they have within them, she also notes one key exception.  She says that their ignorance is illimitable.  They come with much capacity and an already functioning mind.  They don't come with experience or knowledge.

Ruskin says that true imagination rests on accurate knowledge and observation. 

Mason talks about cultivating the imagination and explains imagination increases in both order and richness the more we know.  She advises that if we want to have a well stocked imagination, we need to 'read much' and picture to ourselves what we are reading.  

This section from volume IV is too good to just paraphrase:

"The Realm of Fiction––Essential and Accidental Truth.––What shall we say of fable, poetry, romance, the whole realm of fiction? There are two sorts of Truth. What we may call accidental Truth; that is, that such and such a thing came to pass in a certain place at a certain hour on a certain day; and this is the sort of Truth we have to observe in our general talk. The other, the Truth of Art, is what we may call essential Truth; that, for example, given, such and such a character, he must needs have thought and acted in such and such a way, with such and such consequences; given, a certain aspect of nature, and the poet will receive from it such and such ideas; or, certain things of common life, as a dog with a bone, for example, will present themselves to the thinker as fables, illustrating some of the happenings of life. This sort of fiction is of enormous value to us, whether we find it in poetry or romance; it teaches us morals and manners; what to do in given circumstances; what will happen if we behave in a certain way. It shows how, what seems a little venial fault is often followed by dreadful consequences, and our eyes are opened to see that it is not little or venial, but is a deep-seated fault of character; some selfishness, shallowness, or deceitfulness upon which a man or woman makes shipwreck. We cannot learn these things except through what is called fiction, or from the bitter experience of life, from the penalties of which our writers of fiction do their best to spare us."

Included in the category of literature would be Shakespeare's plays, which are ultimately a kind of study of humanity.

From volume IV: "We probably read Shakespeare in the first place for his stories, afterwards for his characters, the multitude of delightful persons with whom he makes us so intimate that afterwards, in fiction or in fact, we say, 'She is another Jessica,' and 'That dear girl is a Miranda'; 'She is a Cordelia to her father,' and, such a figure in history, 'a base lago.' To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life."
 Within the pages of books and stories we can meet characters and see their motivations and thought processes and the consequences of their choices over decades in ways not available to us in real life. It’s fiction, of course, but the thing about living books is that they are written by people with a talent for observing human nature and showing us something about how it works, and filling our imagination with a pageant of humanity and people types and the human condition.  

Poetry: Mason says both poetry and essays are instructors of conscience and teachers (volume IV) and it seems to me they can only truly be successful at this insofar as they strike at our imagination and take hold of it.  This is because "the power of poetry to instruct conscience does not depend on its direct teaching." (volume IV again) 

Modern researchers are finding this as well, thin a dandy little study I encourage you to read about. It turns out that the indirect, incomplete, open ended message is more likely to catch hold of the mind and engage the imagination than the simplified, easy, version interpreted for us by somebody else.  Researchers find that  "reading poetry, in particular, increases activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with “autobiographical memory”, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they have read."  

During this study,  "Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read works by William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, T.S Eliot and others.:
Most interesting to me, "They then “translated” the texts into more “straightforward”, modern language and again monitored the readers’ brains as they read the words.
Scans showed that the more “challenging” prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions."

When you read "she walks in beauty as the night" your mind grabs that, holds it, puzzles over it and works at it, like chewing a substantial bite of solid feed.  When you read, "there is a woman as beautiful and mysterious as a dark night,' there isn't really anything to think about. Your mind glides over it with no more effort than it takes to swallow a spoon full of baby food, and it is applied effort that makes our education our own, that makes the imagination work and helps it grow.

Poetry: Mason quotes Matthew Arnold, saying, "Matthew Arnold tells us that poetry is a criticism of life; so it is, both a criticism and an inspiration; and most of us carry in our minds tags of verse which shape our conduct more than we know."

Let's talk about those tags of verses.  First I want to share an idea about memory called ‘chunking.’ It's not a very elegant term but the general idea is that because we have a limited short term memory we help ourselves remember more things by glomming them together in different ways 'chunking.-  If I tell you to memorize 7208658500, that's a bit daunting.  You have no context, and it's just a long string of numbers.  If I tell you dial 720-865-8500 for a dial-a-story program, you have context, and you have a chunking system. Instead of ten numbers in a series, you probably think of that as three numbers, 720 and 865 rather than 7-2-0 and  8-6-5, and 8-5-0-0 becomes eighty-five hundred.

We do this with words, too- if you ask me to list the things I think of when you say the word seashell, I will come up with a list of words, places, associations. I will think of islands I have lived and gathered seashells, I will think of calcium carbonate and limestone and an easy experiment to discover whether a bit of rock is volcanic or coral reef in origin, I will think of seashells I have collected and spirals and the geometry of seashells, of things they eat and that eat them- you will also have a list and it will likely be very different. 

If I ask you to tell me what you think of when I say cherry, you might think of pies and George Washington, your grandmother's canned cherries, and dozens of other things. 

We chunk words together with related ideas, facts, stories, events, places- some personal, some from our reading.  The more we learn, the more bits and pieces adhere to our other knowledge, combining, chunking together, and so a single word in our vocabulary brings up dozens of possible images, rifles through a hundred files in a quick second, represents half a dozen events in history, has connections to ideas about science, math, and possibly more.  The more we learn, the more we expand our horizens and our reading, the more our feet are set in that wide room Mason mentions (quoting the Psalms, the more wonderful things a single good word represents in our minds.

People with good vocabularies don't just have a nice collection of words, they have a wide and generous education full of wonderful things to know.  

 Poetry does this chunking as well- or rather, our minds use poetry in the same way.  a phrase, a line, from a well known poem will bring up a host of other associations and ideas- connections, relations.

Writer and teacher J. Bottam says, " reason we read poetry to children is to hand on a deposit of words and phrases, the investment of prior generations in the language. There is a purpose in putting lines like “young Lochinvar is come out of the West” in children’s anthologies—and “’Twas the night before Christmas” and “what is so rare as a day in June?” and “I hear America singing” and “Under a spreading chestnut tree” and all the rest of the Victorian parlor classics, together with the most hackneyed, overquoted lines from Shakespeare and Dryden and Pope and Keats...  The person who is not given these references as a child will be deprived as an adult, lacking old memories around which the language can thicken."Language is the amber in which a thousand precious thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet, writer, philosopher, ' 

Poetry expands our imagination, and it does this partially through the way it touches the emotions.  At some point (I believe in the first couple of years after Mason's death) the PNEU recommended the poetry anthology Tom Tiddler’s Ground compiled by Walter de la Mare for form I or II. In the preface to one edition de la Mare says:

 'Whatever you admire you look at with all yourself in your eyes; and your love for it adds to its beauty.'

Remember: Imagination is born of love.  The more they love, the more they care, the more their imaginations are warmed and peopled by others than themselves.

Some additional reading links and resources:

If you appreciate what you read here,  I have some other goodies you'll enjoy.  Take a look below!

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- Basis for the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material not presented in the talk, and other goodies as well..  

 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.

Picture Study!  Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00

Common Kitchen:  What's for lunch?  Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families?  What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing?  How can I accomplish all those things at once?  We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income.  I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world.  These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids.  Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions.  The snack ideas are whole foods, nourishing, and simple to prepare, based on what I have observed children in other cultures eating for snacks.  I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00

 $3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.

  $3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One!  Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation.   Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.