Thursday, April 17, 2014

When Things Finally Start Coming Together....

Don't you love it when something you've been mulling over and trying to understand finally starts to make sense?  When a deep, overarching concept that you've been trying to grasp and make heads or tails of starts sinking in and coming together. It doesn't happen all at once, and a lot of times it comes in starts and stops, but it feels so good once it's there.  I've blogged before about my own inadequate education. I'm not blaming the education system, per se. I was an pretty bright kid, went through the school system effortlessly, but did not gain a love for learning. I don't remember much in the way of good literature in elementary school and in high school, well, I "read" the "classics" as they were assigned in English class, but I never really grew to love them, they never became part of who I am or changed me in any way. And that's really been bothering me lately.  Actually, it's been bothering me before lately. It's been bothering me for a long time. Several years ago I purchased this book "The Well Educated Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer, which is geared toward adults who want to join The Great Conversation. It's basically a bunch of book lists and ways to read, notes to take, discussions to have in order to educate yourself classically. Her lists are organized by genre, so, being the logical, orderly and obedient person that I am, I started at the beginning with the novels.  And the first novel on the list was "Don Quixote" by Cervantes. I'm sorry, I tried to read that book about five times and just couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. It just literally put me to sleep at every attempt. I think I got about a third of the way through each time. So, I quit. Then, about a week or so ago I was instant messaging my girlfriend, and she mentioned that someone made a list that consolidated SWB's lists into one big list in chronological order. "Can they do that?" I asked. "Well, yeah!" she said. My girlfriend is much more daring than I am. More likely to want to step out of the box. and she told me that the first book on the list was the Epic of Gilgamesh and that I should get the David Ferry translation. (I love it when I can talk about things like "who has the best translation" with people.  It makes me feel so intelligent. And some day, maybe I can read a book in its original language, although probably not Gilgamesh because it was originally written in Babylonian)  And that's when everything started to gel. Because in one of the lectures I listened to by Dr. Christopher Perrin, he talked about how repetition helps children (and adults) to actually master things. It helps things to sink in and become part of who they are. It helps us to love things. And so, I'm not afraid to tackle Gilgamesh because I'm not just picking up a book that's already probably kind of hard to read and trying to read and understand digest and love it.  I know this book. I've already read the picture book by Ludmilla Zeman to my young children.
 And then I read this one....

a little more difficult of a read with my older boy. And so now.... when I attempt this one (which, by the way, is not nearly as intimidating "Don Quixote", it's not nearly so long) I'll know all about it.


I know who Gilgamesh is, I know who Enkidu is and I know what transformation Gilgamesh goes through in his life. I know the plot and the characters. It's familiar and therefore, not scary. And I'm actually kind of excited about it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Vacation

It's Easter Vacation around here. And it's been a long time coming, that's for sure!  I like to keep a school schedule that's roughly 9 weeks on and 1 week off. Of course we take a traditional Christmas Vacation, but 9 weeks on/1 week off is really ideal.  This is the first year we haven't done that. We happen to have a street full of kids who go to a traditional brick & mortar school and to keep my sanity, we follow their schedule now. Basically. We actually do more school days than they do. We start earlier and end later, but I do try to keep the same vacation days as they do.  We only took one day off in February for President's Day. The rest of the block had two Mondays off. Oh my word. You try to keep a kid interested in Math when he's watching everyone else outside riding bikes. And I was a mean mom and made them finish their lessons before they went out to play.  So, instead of taking a week off in March like I really wanted to, I plugged away till mid-April when everyone else took vacation. It was hard, but we made it. 

So, this week we're off. And it's Wednesday already.  We haven't done much, really. Sunday night the kids had a sleep over at Grandma's house and I took the morning and went shopping. I hadn't been to Target since Christmas. And I had to return a Christmas present to Kohls, too. Luckily they have a 12 month return policy. Yesterday..... I can't remember what we did yesterday. Ahhhh, yes! It's all coming back to me. Laundry. It's no wonder I chose to block it out. I did a lot of laundry. But it's ok, because I prop my iPad up on my bed and watch stupid TV shows on Amazon Prime while I'm doing it. (I watched 4 episodes of "Friday Night Lights"! Don't tell anyone. It's kind of a trashy show, but I find it strangely compelling)  Today, I had a girlfriend and her daughter over for lunch and that was good. It's nice to have a good friend.  We know each other's weirdnessess  and we're still ok with each other. That's a rare thing!  Tomorrow.... I don't know what we'll do. I know I have to get some baking done for Easter. But, it' so nice to not really have any plans

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I hated history when I was in school. I didn't remember learning any history in elementary school and when I got to high school... honestly, I didn't remember any history there, either. I thought it was incredibly boring. And I suppose it was. Reading out of a text book is boring. Because that's not really history. History is exciting! Real history is about people and what they did and the ideas they had. But then, sometime in my 20's I read this book. I have no idea where I picked it up or what even interested me in it, but I read it. And I was hooked. It's about the Plantagenet Dynasty. Henry II, the first king of the Plantagenet Dynasty was the grandson of William the Conqueror. Henry came to power in England in the twelfth century. Anyhow, I thought it was fascinating and have gone on to read voraciously any book on the subject I could get my hands on.
Cover of: The conquering family by Thomas B. Costain

So, it goes that we would be heavy on history in our little school here and not history out of a textbook. Since I hold to the Classical Philosophy of education, which believes in teaching history chronologically, we do four year history cycles. The first year is Ancients to the Fall of Rome, next we study The Fall of Rome to the Reformation, then Reformation to 1850 and last 1850 to Present Time.  This year we're doing the Ancients. It's been a fun year. Missie Lou is just starting out so we've been going through this book with her. This is a wonderful introduction to world history and is full of fascinating stories.

The boys are on their second round of this cycle, and so they're going a little deeper into things instead of being so broad.  We've spent a lot of time this year on the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks, and are now enjoying the ancient Romans.
Famous Men Of Rome        Front Cover
These books are fantastic!! There are several reprints, but I like the one put out by Memoria Press. The illustrations are beautiful.  We've had many good conversations about the ideas and people in these books. We use the Greenleaf study guides along with the stories. Right now we're reading "Caesar's Gallic War" by Olivia Coolidge. I mean, you can sit down with your history book and read a bunch of facts and dates about Caesar's adventures in Gaul (modern day France, was populated by the Barbarians back then) or you can read what happened by his own hand. Ok, by his own hand translated and made a little more readable by Olivia Coolidge. No, it's not an easy read, but it's a good one and it makes you really understand what life was like as a Roman soldier and what a truly brilliant man Julius Caesar really was.
Front Cover
And so, this is what history looks like in our house. It's fun! It's alive!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Celebrating the Passover

Tonight our church held a Seder meal. No, we are not Jewish. We are Presbyterian. So, what were we doing holding a Seder meal? Honestly, I wasn't sure, but we went because... well, we wanted to support our church and we were also a bit curious. It was really good. And meaningful. And I think it could have been more meaningful if we could have left the kids at home (I am never truly relaxed when I take them places - Bubba could barely keep his fingers out of the candle sticks and wanted to eat all the matzo), but we wanted them there to experience it and to learn what it was all about. And in the end, I'm glad they came. I think they enjoyed it and learned something as well.  Basically, a Seder meal is the Passover Celebration. The man who came to lead us in it was from an organization for Messianic Jews. And, Messianic Jews are Jews who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

As we made our way through the Seder, our leader explained everything and we ate the bitter herbs and drank from each of the four cups. We said prayers both in Hebrew and in English. And two of my kids were even chosen to shout out the door, looking for the prophet Elijah.We had matzo  and a delicious meal. We had chicken, not lamb, which I understand is what the European Jews serve for Passover. We also had potatoes and this hot, sweet carrot and raisin dish, and salad and soup. The food was very good.

As I said, I think it would have been more meaningful without the kids. It was hard to listen and ponder what was being said with a bunch of restless kids, although they were, for the most part, very well behaved. But I saw so much of my own Christian faith imbedded in the elements of the Seder. It gave so much more meaning and depth to the Christian Sacrament of Communion. It was a good evening.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

  He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms;
He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:11

  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no
might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:29-31

 ... fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10