Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Living (and Blogging) Coram Deo

We women are notorious for comparing ourselves with others, aren't we?
I know I struggle with it. I know in my head that we are all normal human beings, with our own strengths and weaknesses. Still, I can't seem to help myself.

I suspect that most women do a better job at keeping house than I do. On the other hand, I have mad skills at whipping up a meal when any other person would think there is nothing in the house to whip a meal up with. When it comes to homeschooling, I do none of the wonderful creative, crafty things so many seem to be able to do with their little ones. And yet we have a wonderful time with our nature study and our living books and our math games.

And I don't just compare myself and other women. I compare my children with theirs. It just seems like a natural reflex. How do their skills measure up against other children their own age? I feel encouraged in areas that they are doing better than their peers, discouraged when another skill doesn't seem to measure up.

To be honest, this is the one thing I struggle with when I blog. I know that homeschoolers are going to read what I write and compare their lives, their gifts, and their children's gifts with mine. I know this because I fall into that myself when I'm reading other people's blogs.

We all need to remember that we live coram Deo. As R.C. Sproul defines it, "To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God." 

It should not matter at all what anyone else is doing. It should be enough for us (more than enough!) to try to faithfully use the gifts God has given us for his glory. It should be enough to do daily the work He has set before us.

The gifts and the callings he has given us are different from those he has given our blogging friends. We are not called to faithfully use their gifts or to do what they are called to do. We are called to encourage one another and build each other up. I hope you see that heart here, and that when you visit this blog you look for encouragement to apply to your own calling as you live before God.

We do not live before the face of the internet. (coram interrÄ“te?) We live before the face of God.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Not Subjects, but Relationships

Dear Readers, I have just been going through old drafts that never got finished and published on the blog. This fragment is several months old, and I've long since lost that train of thought (It seems to have been a good one!). I want to save it, so I'm publishing it just as it is.

In a Charlotte Mason education, the so-called "extras" are not really extra. They are what make life rich. The poetry, the music, the handicrafts, the nature walks are all part of the "science of relations"...the relationships children are forming with the world around them. Yes, the core subjects of reading and math are essential, but not for any utilitarian reason. Reading is a skill that opens the door to even more relationships...with people from history, with places far away, with ideas. And yes, math is about relationships, too.
"a system of education should have for its aim, not the mastery of certain 'subjects,' but the establishment of these relations in as many directions as circumstances will allow." (vol. 3, p.88)

Monday, December 5, 2016

My Top Ten Books of the Year

Last year at about this time, Tim Challies put out a reading challenge on his blog. While I have always loved reading, my reading had slowed down considerably in the last few years. I blame my four rambunctious little boys. I was still reading childrens' books for them, and homeschooling books for me, but that was about it. Reading through the challenge last year, I was very inspired to begin to read intentionally again. I first set my goal at 26 books, then later changed it to 52. I would have liked to jump to the next category, but 104 still seemed a bit much for me! Right now I'm at 70 books (a few of them did not fit into the categories in the challenge), and I hope to finish a few more before December is over. I will definitely be joining the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge again.

I must admit, I did not work through the challenge in an orderly way. I used the categories as inspiration as I looked for books to read, but then I read whatever I wanted and found a category to fit. I am thinking I will do the same next year.

I recently charted all the books I'd read to see what I could find out about myself and my reading habits. Here's the breakdown:
I read 32 fiction books, and 38 nonfiction. Of the nonfiction, 22 were memoir, biography, or autobiography. Of the fiction, 14 were historical fiction. For some reason I expected that I would read more fiction, and before this I had no idea that memoir was a favourite category of mine. Only 16 of the books were explicitly Christian, though a few more were by Christian authors. I would have expected more than that at the beginning of the year. But there you are.

I also broke down when the books were written. I read six books that were over 100 years old, and eight more that were over 50 years old. Forty were written after 2000. The rest were in between. I was surprised at this, too. I also noticed that I started reading more newer books about halfway through the year (That's when I started to listen to Modern Mrs. Darcy's What Should I Read Next podcast. I'm thinking maybe I should stop, but I do enjoy it so much!)

Here are my top ten books of the year (Links for your convenience, not affiliate links. If you're buying, please find a blogger you want to support that way!):

1. The Island of the World by Michael O'Brien. I reviewed it here. I still think about it.

2. Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins. Here's my review. I know I will come back to this one again and again.

3. George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore. Here's my short goodreads review of the first volume. This was a set of two HUGE volumes, and they were definitely worth the time I put into them.

4. More Than Conquerors by William Hendriksen. I would never have expected an interpretation of the book of Revelation to be in my top ten, but it was wonderful. When I was finished, I wanted to start at the beginning again.

5. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. It was even better than Hannah Coulter, which I read last year. Lovely, lovely writing. My goodreads review is here.

6. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I read this with the classics book club I'm a part of. I also narrated it to myself, which slowed me down and surprised me by allowing my imagination of the book to become much more vivid than it would normally be. I loved it.

7. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. There was a specific category for this author in the 2016 Reading Challenge, and I am so glad there was! I will be reading more by McCullough.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. If you haven't read this before, you need to put it at the top of your to-read list now. I didn't review it, but Cindy Rollins gives it ten out of five stars, and I agree with her.

9. Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman. Jane Eyre is my favourite book of all time. This biography of the author is well written, and I found it fascinating.

10. Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener. I read this for the "Pulitzer Prize winner" category of the 2016 Reading Challenge. It transported me into a world that is completely foreign to me. This is another book that I would never have picked up without the reading challenge, and I am grateful.

Honourable mentions:
Persuasion by Jane Austen. This would have gone into the top ten at number 6, except that this is probably the fifth time I've read it, so I decided to give the space to the books I hadn't read before.

High Call, High Privilege by Gail MacDonald. Another re-read, and on a specialized topic that's not for everyone. If you're a pastor's wife (or will be one), this is well worth reading. For pastors, I'd recommend On Being a Pastor by Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.
If all the above titles seem a bit over-serious to you, go for this bit of fluff. Just lovely.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Living & Learning Update # 5: Books, exams, more books


Don't tell anyone, but I think I might be in trouble with my husband for using the word "minimalism" and "books" in the same sentence. I might have him a bit worried... he would be quite happy if every book that came into this house would never, ever leave. I tried to relieve his mind last week by buying four new bookcases and eagerly attending a library used book sale. Seriously, though, despite our growing collection of books, I am still comfortable using the word "minimalism" in connection with books. To me, minimalism is about keeping the things we truly value and getting rid of the excess. That is what I intentionally try to do with our books. Some might not understand how people like us could possibly value so many books so very highly, but we truly do. The thing that makes me a minimalist despite this is that I am intentional about evaluating each book that we keep. He feels a little more comfortable with the term "curated collection" so maybe I'll just go with that instead of "minimalism," at least in his hearing...


We finished Term 1 of our Ambleside Online years 3 and 1 this week. I haven't counted, but it took a bit longer than twelve weeks. We'll take this coming week off, with the exception of an exam question at breakfast every morning.

I asked SA(8) an exam question this week about "When Mary visited Elizabeth." I got only silence until he finally confessed that he was confused about whether I was asking about the Bible or Our Island Story (Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots)!

We finished The Princess and the Goblin on Friday. We had a bit of a rough start with it at the beginning of the term. I was having SA read it on his own, and he found it hard to narrate. Then halfway through I decided I'd read aloud to him, and I think he fell in love with it. In any case, he picked up the sequel The Princess and Curdie and has been reading non-stop since yesterday. He had only two chapters left to go this evening. This makes me very happy, because it is still very rare for him to pick up a chapter book and just read. He may turn into a bookworm yet! (JJ, on the other hand, is already a bookworm.)


I'm reading Caddie Woodlawn and Robin Hood with the boys at bedtime. SA and JJ rush to get ready so they can be the first to put their vote in as to what we will read. MM(4) has figured out that if he's last he can be the tie-breaker, though, so he takes his time!

I'm reading Side by Side by Ed Welch, a book about how we need the Lord, and how we need each other. I'm also deep into the Iliad again in preparation for my study group, and I've begun reading Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, spurred on by Brandy at Afterthoughts blog. I also have a novel on the go: A Severed Wasp by Madeleine L'Engle. It's the second book I've read by L'Engle. The first I read was the fourth volume of her Crosswicks Journals. I'm starting on the opposite end than most people do with L'Engle (she is well known for her children's literature) but I am really enjoying these mature works. I will get to the children's books too someday.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Living & Learning Update #4: Flat Stanley, Shoeboxes, Scheduling App


SA(8) had a cousin from Saskatchewan send him a Flat Stanley. On Tuesday we went out and took a couple of pictures at Peake's Quay (where the Fathers of Confederation landed) and Province House (where the Fathers of Confederation met and Canada was born.). The tiny figure on the step is SA, holding Flat Stanley.

Yesterday SA(8), JJ(6), niece I(9) and I went to the Operation Christmas Child packing party at our church. In the last few years we've just packed our own boxes, but the party was great fun! 82 boxes were packed in just over an hour.


This week was much nicer weather than last for our #FallOutside2016 nature challenge! We are trying to get outside every day for at least 15 minutes this month. This week started out gorgeous. On Wednesday we even had lessons outside because it was so warm... it actually went up to 13 degrees (about 55 Farenheit)! We stayed outside almost all day that day. We didn't get all the schoolwork done, but it will probably be June before it's that nice again and we wanted to enjoy it.

MM(4) has been very earnest lately about trying things on the piano. He looks very carefully at his brother's piano book and tries to figure it out with his fingers on the keys. Afterwards he comes to me and asks if I heard him playing.

In other news, I have discovered a lovely app for my iPhone called 30/30. It seems perfect for scheduling Charlotte Mason-style short lessons. I put in my "Daily List" of lessons we do together as a family. For each item on the list I can add a specific period of time. When the timer rings, our lesson is over and it goes on to the next item (I have it pause at that point until we're set to go with our next lesson.) So far it has worked really well to keep us on track. Because that list is quite similar for us every day, I just make minor adjustments to the list each evening. This may even end up replacing my paper and pen daily checklist!

I have lists for each child for the work they do separately as well. That works a little less well because they work at different things at the same time. (SA does copywork while I read to JJ, for example). I may figure out how to make it work yet, though.

Has anyone else tried this app for homeschooling to-do lists?


In light reading, I read Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires this week. I loved it. She was the New York Times restaurant critic for a while and this book is about her various disguises as she did that.

In slightly heavier reading, I started Kathleen Norris' Acedia & Me. It seems very promising. I read her Amazing Grace earlier this year and found it very thought provoking and worth reading, though I come from a very different background and disagree with some foundational things she seems to take for granted.

With the boys I started Caddie Woodlawn for their bedtime reading.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Living & Learning Update # 3: Origami, Fall Outside Nature Challenge


I have been greeted by this sight every morning for the last several weeks. SA(8) and JJ(6) are obsessed with origami. Earlier this fall at a yard sale I found what I thought was a package of origami paper for a dollar. This origami paper turned out to have folding instructions on the back of each page. The boys have been making their own square "origami paper" by cutting printer paper, and have been making many of the designs.

I am amazed at how skilled they have become. We did origami as our "handicraft" last year at some point, and it was very difficult for them at first. Now they are doing quite complex folds, making paper tulips and elephants and cranes. They have definitely left me behind! (This is making me feel better about myself, since I am failing to teach them a handicraft this term.) I must say, though, that the mess they create is terrible, especially since their instructions are loose-leaf and not in a book.

Fall Outside 2016 Nature Challenge
This "adventure" is put on by Dawn from Mud Puddles to Meteors. The challenge is to get outside in nature for 15 minutes every day of  this month. November can be so cold and grey (and it was, this week!)! I knew I needed the kick in the pants to get the children out every day. There was quite a bit of foot-dragging at the beginning of the week, but by the end the boys were getting used to the cold again and enjoying being out in nature. On Thursday we lit a little bonfire, and that was a huge hit. They stayed out for a couple of hours that day.

 We are also doing some little drawings on a calendar to chronicle our month with nature. I love MM(4)'s poplar leaf!

Here is my youngest book lover AJ "reading" The Gingerbread Man. His favourite book, though, is One Summer Day by Kim Lewis. It has a little boy of about his size who, like him, plays peekaboo, and likes to get his shoes and coat on to go outside.

In other reading news, I finished reading William Steig's Newberry Honor book Abel's Island aloud to the bigger boys. They loved it, and the pictures really enhanced the story for them. I enjoyed it, but I did find Abel a bit eccentric at times, and the story ended rather abruptly. William Steig is an interesting author. I don't like all of his children's books, and I don't find his art all that charming (children like it, though), but he has a few books I absolutely love. Amos and Boris definitely goes into my top 10 picture books of all time. Another one I love is called Yellow & Pink, which is a quirky parable about intelligent design.

In my own reading, I am almost through Elizabeth Goudge's Scent of Water. I am enjoying it, but not as much as I had hoped. My expectations were too high, and the deficiency is in myself. I can only explain the problem in MBTI terms. I am not "iNtuitive" enough for this book. As an ISFJ, I have put some thought into how I interact with other types. The "N" types are the ones most likely to mystify me. As in this case, this is usually in a good way (I stand in awe of the way someone sees the world and communicates about it.), but sometimes it is in a not so good way (I am completely mystified by the way someone thinks...they seem to be ungrounded in reality.) I think Elizabeth Goudge is an "NF" type. Her writing is very evocative. She does put a lot of sensory detail in her novels, but it is all about the feeling her description creates in you. Any attempt to recreate the scene (whether in a movie or in real life) would be disappointing, because it's not about the details, it's about the atmosphere. Does that make sense? Any other "S" types out there that get what I'm saying here, or does this sound crazy to you? The feelings I get as I read are lovely but nebulous, and they drift away from me. The truth that comes through sometimes in this novel is beautiful but almost always startling to me, as it seems to burst forth out of almost nothing (there is no logic, no natural progression to it). I'm not at all saying I didn't like the book, just that I didn't feel quite at home in it.

I should say that I think most of the best novel writers are "N" types, and very few of them make me feel like outsiders in the worlds they create. Marilyn Robinson is another very strongly intuitive type, and I think her books are wonderful. I am not like her Lila, but I love her and stand in awe. Even L.M. Montgomery, who speaks so much of kindred spirits, does not make me feel as though I am not one. (After all, she lets Diana Barry be one, and Diana does not "get" Anne all the time either.) Elizabeth Goudge creates a sympathetic world between her intuitive type kindred spirits --Mary, Edith, Paul-- and the ordinary people really don't matter all that much in her world. Perhaps this is why Goudge is so very loved...all the "N" type readers feel like the characters are kindred spirits, and her way of thinking and imagining feels like home.

So end my jumbled musings...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Minimalism for Homeschooling Book Lovers

Is there such a thing?

I have been reading about minimalism for a while now, but I have never found a good article or book on minimalism that directly addresses the kind of book lovers that we are in my family.

We love books. They are not merely entertainment for us. We homeschool, not using textbooks, but real, living books. We already have many books, but with our oldest child only in grade three we still have many future years of homeschooling to collect books for. It is quite possible we will never be quite done. When the kids leave home, we'll have more time for reading ourselves, right?

However. All these books must have a home.

Our home is not large. We have eleven bookcases, each with four shelves: four in the boys' room (categories: children's fiction, children's nonfiction, adult fiction, biographies, poetry), four in our bedroom (categories: theology, other nonfiction), and three downstairs (categories: school books up to grade 5, current school books, Canadian books, music and art books). That doesn't include the picture books in plastic bins for the little children's easy reach. We already have too many books for our shelves, and are keeping some in boxes.

I am attracted to minimalism, and working towards it in the areas of my home that I have control over. At the same time, I know that our book collection will continue to grow. Books are what spark joy around here. They are also the tools of my trade (homeschooling), and will be for some time to come.

Here are some ideas if you are like me.

1. Only keep books that spark joy.
This concept is borrowed from Marie Kondo. I know, I know, the section of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up dealing with books probably horrified you to your core, and no wonder.
And yet... it has been very helpful for me to ask of every book on my shelves, "Does this particular book spark joy?" Since I am quite selective about books anyway, most of the books on my shelves did indeed spark joy. Still, by removing the few that didn't, I really concentrated the joy. My bookshelves really, really make me happy now.

If, like me, you are into Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, you could also ask, "Is this a living book?" If it is not, it generally can go. There is no need to keep mediocre books when there are so many excellent ones out there!

This also means getting rid of the "What if I will need it some day?" books. For example, I had some books on great artists. They were not living books. They were not even beautiful (a lot of black and white prints of paintings). I thought I wanted to keep them as references for when we did picture study in our homeschool. And yet, when we studied one of the artists in those books, I did not pull it out. I got a variety of books from the library instead. I realized that this was likely to be a pattern, and I truly did not need these books. It took me a long time, but eventually I did let them go. I have other art books that I am keeping because they are beautiful and bring me joy. If you are saying to yourself, "It's not a living book, but what if I need it some day?" Let it go and make space in your life for more living books.

2. Get rid of duplicates.
We have a lot of classic children's literature. That kind of literature is the very kind that people like us "don't mind having more than one of." However, that kind of literature is often easily replaceable (even used, cheap) if you ever do need another copy. In the meantime, where space is finite, getting rid of duplicates frees up space for more titles. Of course, there will be exceptions, such as different translations to compare, or favourite vintage titles that are hard to get and must be passed down to several children.

3. Organize your books.
Until your books are organized, you will not realize how many duplicates you have, and you will not be able to find what you need when you need it. My books are organized by category, and by author within each category. If I accidentally buy a duplicate, I notice immediately when I am putting it away. I am working on putting our books into libib, a lovely cataloguing website and app, but I'm not sure I will ever be done... this takes time!

4. Accept that some books have their seasons.
There will be a time when I will no longer need my early reading books. I will probably keep a few of my favourites (Frog and Toad!), but at some point most of them will be passed on to someone who needs them. Some day I will be finished homeschooling, and while it is probable that by then many of our school books will be such favourites that I will never part with them, others will be able to be culled.

5. Keep only the books that reflect the kind of "book person" you actually are, not the one you want to see yourself as.
This is one I'm struggling with. I have several vintage books. I have had them for ten years now, have never read them, and never will. I might like to think of myself as a collector of vintage books, but really, I'm not. I buy and will continue to buy vintage books that we will actually read. I personally do not keep books just to look pretty on my shelf. That's not the kind of "book person" I am. Realizing this might help me to let these books go. We'll see... they're not gone yet!

Be careful, though. If I had been following this principle two years ago, I could have gotten rid of a lot of my adult literature (hypothetically speaking, in case my husband is reading this...). I could have thought to myself that my husband and I don't really read anymore. It was true, there were several years when we didn't read much. But now I'm back into reading again. It was just a really busy time of babies and diapers and beginning homeschooling. If this is you, ask yourself, "Am I really not a book person, or am I just in a stage of life that makes it difficult to read?"

6. Always have enough shelves for your books, and keep no more books than fit on your shelves.
This is a rule I aspire to, but do not follow right now. I have three large boxes of books that do not fit on my shelves. But it's what I'm working towards. In this case, the solution will have to be to build more shelves.

7. Accept the process.
To quote Sarah MacKenzie, I have made the decision to "build [my] family culture around books." In doing so, I am accepting the work it takes to curate and maintain a collection that reflects what we love and who we are as a family. I am accepting the tension created by limited space, and that books we like will have to make their way out to make room for books we love. This is hard work, but it's work that I must accept if I want to have and keep the books we love. If ever I am not willing to accept responsibility for taking care of these books, it will be time to let them go.

What about you? Do you see minimalism and book collecting as competing goals? What ideas have helped you as your book collection grows?

Edited to add some pictures of my "children's fiction" section, because I know you like looking at other peoples' bookshelves. :) You're welcome.