Planning for the new school year

I’ve been doing some planning. Going through the book list on Ambleside Online and downloading the free Kindle versions of some of the books I need. For awhile I was planning on buying a spelling program despite the fact that Charlotte Mason says we don’t need to teach spelling as its own class. I thought the spelling program looked like something my son would enjoy. Then I decided to trust Miss Mason, and so I’m not buying the spelling program although it’s a great temptation. I did buy a keyboarding program that came almost free with my handwriting workbooks. Miss Mason has nothing bad to say about keyboarding:)

I’m signed up for a lot of emails that offer homeschooling advice, advertisements, freebies, giveaways. It’s almost too much. I like the good advice. I like being directed to a really helpful free website. I don’t enjoy being offered all sorts of sales on ebooks, bundles, and services that are supposedly designed for a Charlotte Mason education. It’s supposed to make my life simpler, but it doesn’t. Ambleside Online’s website and forum are fairly time-consuming in themselves. I don’t need more companies to distract my attention away from what I really need to teach my children. I’m working on trusting Miss Mason, and trusting my own instincts about what is worth the time and money.

What do I really need right now? I have to figure out how I’m going to teach Bible every day of every week. I’m supposed to read right out of the Bible, and I will, but my children do not do well with that. I need a plan.

I also need a foreign language plan. It makes sense for me to teach Spanish. It’s the foreign language I learned. But I don’t have a passion for it. I’d rather teach them German or French, and learn right along with them. I’m not sure. And I have not found a curriculum I like for any language. I might hold off on foreign language until I get that sorted out in my mind.

I am stubbornly holding with the Delightful Reading kit I purchased a couple years ago. The results are dreadfully slow, but that is probably because my children are not ready to read yet. I cannot rush human brains. It will do no good.

Then there’s the handicraft challenge. We do crafts quite often, but they are not the sort Miss Mason has in mind. She recommends the sort of crafts that they can learn now so they will be useful in their future adulthood, such as knitting, weaving, sewing, etc. These things take a large amount of ambition on my part. I might be expecting too much from myself. I need to take it easy, play it by ear, be inspired at the spur of the moment rather then fretting about a scheduled project. I think I’ve just decided I need to plan less for handicrafts.

I know my kids love spontaneous adventures. Some things have to be planned, and that’s why I like AO. They do a lot of the planning for me. But there is room for lots of spur-of-the-moment excitement. So I’ll keep those emails coming, ignore them most of the time, and occasionally let them lead me down a new and inspiring path. How’s that for a plan?


Van Gogh in Montmartre

Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre, Vincent Van Gogh, 1886
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre, Vincent Van Gogh, 1886

I bought a framed print of this at a garage sale today. It’s going on the wall above my computer screen. At the moment it is resting in a chair behind me, and I am getting nothing done because I keep looking back.

Montmartre is a part of Paris in which Van Gogh lived with his brother during 1886-1887. The Moulin de Blute-Fin is a windmill. My initial reasons for loving to stare at this painting include the short, stubbled brushstrokes characteristic of Van Gogh, the adventure of joining these observers on the terrace, the way the whole painting makes me feel a cold, raw wind against my face, and the quirky lampposts that seem both wrong and very right at the same time.

What I’m writing about now

It has been almost a year since my collection of stories, A Flower in the Heart of the Painting, was published. I get asked when the next one is coming out. I sometimes wonder if people are disappointed when I tell them, “Not for a long time.” More often people ask me if I am writing another book. Now that’s a different question. Yes, of course. I was writing that first book of stories for ten years or so. I’m not about to stop the habit of writing. Am I writing anything that might be a novel or another collection? I sure hope so.

I used to believe if I told people what I was currently writing about, it would somehow doom the project. I would try to be close-mouthed about my endeavors. That sounds like superstition, and I’m not superstitious. So here’s to all you curious readers out there: I’m writing a long story (hopefully it will extend into a novel) about a family who has moved from suburban life to a dairy farm. The father, who made the decision, is changed, and the rest of the family tries to understand how to live in all the upheaval. The mother is an artist (of course!). And the nearest town is based on a town I am familiar with, which boasts many outdoor sculptures. The sculptures will be important/interesting as the story goes on, and I have an idea that the sculptor’s direct descendant might be an important character in the story as well. I’m not very far along yet, so the story is very malleable.

I’ve been reading a lot of Bronte and admiring their excellent characterization, and their captivating dialogue. I have read Portrait of a Lady by Henry James twice, but I’m feeling like I need a reread now. I love the psychological depth of his writing. And I’ve been interested in the “stream of consciousness” idea. I’m not sure I can do that sort of writing to its full extent, but when I try, I come up with some interesting ideas (and the first few lines generally need cutting).

I hope to write another post in the near future to let you know about the publication of a shorter work. I can’t always be working on a long piece:)

Robin Hood

Now, the Queen had half-expected the men to be rude and uncouth in appearance because of their wild life in the forest, but she was delightfully disappointed. Indeed, she started back in surprise, and almost clapped her hands. For sooth to say, the yeomen made a brave sight, and in all the court no more gallant men could be found. Marian felt her cheeks glow with pride at sight of the half-hidden looks of admiration sent forth by the other ladies-in-waiting.

— from Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, 1883

Reading Robin Hood together, chapter by chapter, became a highlight of this summer for my son. When we started it, I raised my eyebrows at all the fighting between the characters in the book and wondered if I ought to continue. I’m glad I stuck with it. Yes, Robin and his men love to have some sort of combat with almost anyone that crosses their path in the greenwood. But Robin and his men are also very gentlemanly about everything. They fight by the rules. Dignity matters. They protect women and children. Robin’s men recognize Robin’s authority and subject themselves to it. And, as most everyone knows, Robin Hood only robs the rich to repay those who have been misfortuned.

The Queen was delightfully disappointed in her expectations of Robin Hood. I am simply delighted to read a book about courteous men, even if they are outlaws who like to knock other men down with big sticks.

Waiting out the storm

Many people seem ready for school to start. I’m not ready for summer to end. In the spirit of embracing summer and not letting go, I took the kids to a public beach on Green Lake. We ate our picnic, played on the seesaw, and enjoyed half an hour of swimming and sand-play before dark clouds rolled closer and thunder sounded its ominous warning. That was our cue to get out. Now I had to make a decision: should we go home or wait out the storm? I didn’t really want our beach day to end so soon. So we stayed in the shelter, watching the small storm come closer, amusing ourselves with the dramatics of a pontoon boat that wouldn’t stay anchored, and the group of children in our shelter who were cold and sometimes frantic. The wind picked up, the rain came down, the thunder sounded right above us. The sea gulls clustered at the edge of the beach, all facing into the wind. They, too, were waiting out the storm. I pointed this out to my children, and one of them asked me what “waiting out” meant. “Waiting until it’s over,” I explained. But really, we weren’t just waiting. We were experiencing a storm (thankfully, a small one) by the beach of a lake. Way, way better than watching TV. Even better than reading a book. A million times better than playing Solitaire on the computer. We felt the temperature-drop, we heard the wind, saw the choppiness of the water, noticed the birds’ behavior, learned about electricity and water, heard thunder up-close and outdoors, smelled the strong lake scent after the storm had passed.

We did go back in the water afterward, but the sun wasn’t shining full-force anymore, and neither was our energy. So we ended up leaving after all. Was it worth waiting out the storm? Definitely. At home we would have stayed indoors. And if I had left early, I would have wondered if I had missed out on a great beach day.

Bronte Question

I am nearly finished reading Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley. I knew I would love it, and I do. However, I have a question for any Bronte sister experts out there. Shirley’s old governess, Mrs. Pryor, turns out to be Agnes Grey, who also happens to be the title character of Anne Bronte’s novel. I could maybe understand how Agnes from Anne’s novel becomes timid Mrs. Pryor (if I accounted for a lot of stress in her life), but the husbands don’t match up. So is it just a recycled name, or is there some sort of real relation between the Agnes in Anne’s book and the one in Charlotte’s book?

In my brief online research, I’ve discovered that many characters in Shirley relate to real people in Charlotte’s family and social circle. For instance, Shirley might be Emily if Emily had been born rich. I wish my own sisters were writers. We could have created strange worlds together, and shared character names, and become the world-renown Pausma sisters. These are the crazy things I sometimes dream about:)

Matisse: Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table.

Henri Matisse, Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947
Henri Matisse, Red Interior. Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947

I’m going to relate my homeschooling attitude to this painting. It might be a stretch, but with me, and with Matisse, it might work. I’m technically new at this homeschooling thing. My oldest child is six and will be doing Year 1 of Ambleside Online beginning this fall. Also, I was not homeschooled myself. However, I knew I would homeschool several years ago, and in preparation I have been saturating myself in the colors of a homeschool lifestyle. I have not been stressing out. Can you imagine Matisse stressed out while painting this picture? I can’t. When I look at this picture I see freedom to play, freedom to be bold, a desire to have one foot in abstraction while not removing the other from realism. I see the attitude I want to have as a homeschool mom. I want that freedom to play both indoors and out. I want to bring the outdoors inside. I want that open door. I want learning to be bold and in-your-face, not dry and cryptic. I want to see patterns all over. I want to hang the faces of historical people on the walls of my children’s brains, as if they were relatives with interesting stories connected to each. I want learning to be multi-sensory, so that dinner or the produce we bring in from the garden, becomes part of our learning lifestyle, not just dinner. Not just tomatoes. I want everything to fit together, wonderfully, crazily, playfully, amazingly. The way God fits everything together. I want to love beauty so much that we want to create it, explore it, describe it, live in it. My son recently told me he did not want to watch such-and-such a movie because it was ugly. I wish I had thought of that. Parts of it are ugly animation, and I am (upon further thought) very encouraged by his wisdom. Already he is learning to discriminate between what is second-rate and what is lovely and worthwhile.