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15 January 2019

Come Follow Me: The Nativity

 Ok, it feels... weird to be studying the Nativity in January. I'm all set to be working towards Easter, and here's Christmas again.

But we had this thought in our conversation about Zacharias and John the Baptist (our family's discussion sort of glossed over Elizabeth; not where the kids' attention was, this time around), and I'm still kind of mulling it over:

John the Baptist and Baby Jesus are just about the only baby stories we have in the scriptures. We don't know about Isaiah or Daniel or Nephi or Samuel the Lamanite as infants. Even modern prophets, even Joseph Smith where stories from his childhood are pretty common, they're not baby stories. Hannah's son Samuel, that story talks about the desire for a child, but then pretty quick it's right on to Samuel as a precocious child-prophet in the temple.

My kids love baby stories. They ask for their own all the time

So why are these stories in the Bible when nowhere else in scripture do we see the first moments of a prophet's life?

I think it's because these babies are impossible:

Elizabeth was too old.
"Well stricken in years."
Virgins can't bear children.
It doesn't work like that.

So babies. This week is about babies again. And wise men.

I have questions about those wisemen: like, why did they come?

Yes, I know. They saw the star in the east, so they came to see Him. And they brought the gifts that funded the excursion to Egypt. But what if they hadn't come, would Herod have still killed all the children? Or would they not have noticed? I mean, something around two years had gone by and the baby had escaped his notice. So what was it that they were really there for? What did Christ do while his family was in Egypt? Or, what did the wisemen do when they went back home? Maybe the reason why their trip was important enough was something that happened back home, after they returned.

The stories we have are a treasure, no doubt about it. But I can think of a couple of places where I would love to have some more details. This is one of them.

I think that this week I also want to spend some time looking at some of the supporting characters: Anna the prophetess and Simon. How cool would it be to head to the temple one day... and there is the Lord!

And, Anna is a prophetess. That's not something that we talk about, much. But she's not the only one: Deborah, who was also a judge. Huldah the prophetess, that young King Josiah sent his messengers to. Isaiah's wife. Miriam, Moses's sister: also a prophetess. The Guide to the Scriptures article includes Mary in this group, which makes perfect sense. Given that the testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy, it makes perfect sense that believers of either gender could warrant the title prophet or prophetess.

And then, again, there's that thing that it says about Mary: she kept all these things in her heart. It would be interesting to see how that phrase is rendered in Japanese and Spanish.

In the manual there's also a section on what the Joseph Smith Translation is. This will be a likely time to remind my older kids of what it is: a series of corrections given to Joseph Smith during his period of instruction, by inspiration, as he studied the Bible;  and what it is not: a return to the original text. That's what my institute teacher told me, and everything I've seen since then has borne that out. The kids have run into it before --the corrections to the Exodus story, for instance, clarifying that it was Pharaoh's own foolishness and pride and not the Lord hardening his heart; that would be inconsistent with the nature of God, who never, at any point, would cause or condone sin.

Anyway, that's most likely as much or more than what we can cover this week. I'd love to hear what you are doing with the new curriculum. Drop me a note in the comments!

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06 January 2019

Scheduling our Charlotte Mason Homeschool Day

I think that one of the things that's hardest for me to work out as we homeschool is: how much work will fit in a day? I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure this out over Christmas break as I worked up our new schedules. It's an important question: Hero is getting to the point where I need to start helping him to develop the skills to organize himself; he needs to start being a touch more independent about his school work.

But before I can hand him a schedule, I have to make one.

We've had schedules for a long time, actually. I put them in my bullet journal, and it's a system that works fairly well in a lot of days. We've done it more or less the same way for a number of years now. I make a "six week" schedule that never, ever lasts for only six weeks. The idea is that we'll have six weeks on and a week off, and I'll make a new schedule in the off week, only we're never, ever done by six weeks: I'm too optimistic about how many minutes there are in a school day.

And each week I have one of these box charts next to a page that's got my appointments and other commitments, so that I can see them all as a glance, and color in the little boxes as we go along, which I find extremely satisfying.

But I have a super hard time telling what's going to fit into a week. We mostly follow Ambelside Online's schedules, but I made a big mess of it when we started switching, so I can't actually use the schedules they publish. Because "mostly" is an important word, and we're still somewhat using the things from The Well-Trained Mind. Also, leaving their book list as-is isn't any easier than leaving a recipe as-is: I generally intend to follow it. And the main books/ingredients tend to be the same.

So I sat down and tried counting up how many 30 minute slots there are, after we've done Morning basked (about an hour), violin and piano practice (another 30-45 minutes or so), and done math (another 30 minutes). That brings us to about 2.5 hours. I like to start at 9, and be done around 3. Which leaves us about 6-7 half hour "slots" for the rest of the day. And I carefully sat down and figured out how many slots in a week for each kid (the younger ones don't do as much), and wrote it all on my chart.

I was so happy with myself: we "weekly" schedule was going to really be weekly!

Then I started putting it all on the marker board. I put up the list of the work that's expected, and the kids erase things as they finish: they get to choose what order they do their work in (mostly), and we all can see how much still needs to be done today. Hero and I are experimenting with him choosing the order of things in the week, so he's just got numbers, rather than abbreviations for various books and subjects.

 I think I did my math wrong. I guess we'll see after we've lived the schedule I made for a few days. But I think that I did it wrong, and there's about 10 things too many on the schedule each week. So we're totally going to be going with a "weekly" schedule, more sets of stuff we loop through, rather than a legitimate list of work we'll accomplish each week.


There's so many cool things to learn.
How do you even decide what to keep and what to drop??

05 January 2019

Come Follow Me: Trust and Temples

The first time I sat down to do it with the kids, it was rough: changes to routine always are, and although we've done scripture study of various types, this was just a little different from them all, and there was some static over it. 

Honestly, I wasn't sure what to do with the first lesson.

I love that we're responsible for our own learning. And the quote from Brother Bednar is great:

"As learners, you and I are to act and be doers of the word and not simply hearers who are only acted upon. Are you and I agents who act and seek learning by faith, or are we waiting to be taught and acted upon? … A learner exercising agency by acting in accordance with correct principles opens his or her heart to the Holy Ghost and invites His teaching, testifying power, and confirming witness. Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception."
-David A. Bednar, quoted in Come Follow Me 2019, week 1

This is a better way of saying a what I've been trying to teach my kids for quite a while: there are more blessings, special blessings, that are only available to you when the scriptures become important enough that you read them all by yourself. Not because Mom said so. Not because the family is doing it and you're expected to come. There are blessings that come to us only when we make it happen on our own. Because making it happen, prioritizing it on our own time, is an act of Agency: it's an act of faith. And that action we take, when we open up the scriptures on our own, creates an opening like no other where the Lord's Spirit can work  in us and on us.

But I still found myself wishing for a nice chapter to read. Like we get in week 2, where we read about Mary. This week we're reading baby stories; what could be more lovely? I think we'll read a chunk of Luke 1 first, as I read these with the kids: that's all about John the Baptist, and then switch over into Matthew.

How do you suppose that Mary felt, as all this was happening to her?

I imagine she was stressed right out, personally. At least some of the time.

I'd guess that she didn't really understand. Not all of it. Not at first.

And a virgin pregnancy is impossible... everybody knows that.
And the penalty for fornication under the Mosaic Law was death.
That's why Joseph was going to put her away quietly: he didn't want to see her stoned.

Plus, she was pregnant: morning sickness, crazy emotions, exhaustion, all the excitement that pregnancy is, plus a lot that the rest of us don't have to cope with. 

So I'm guessing that this period is extremely stressful. Because, remember, at the tomb, on Resurrection Morning, the Apostles who spent so much time with Him, they still didn't understand what was going on. So here, at the beginning, when it's just a girl who sees and angel who tells her she will be miraculously, impossibly, pregnant --but not a whole lot more-- it makes me think of what Paul said: we see "through a glass, darkly". Here, at the beginning, it's apparent that something magnificent is underway, that God has a special role for her. But I wonder, at this early stage, how much she understood. In her shoes, I can easily imagine some long nights, struggling to figure it all out, if that was me.

But I also imagine that she'd be at peace, when she remembered Gabriel, and leaned into the Spirit, and remembered to trust God. It seems clear that she's pretty good at that: there are a ton of questions that could be asked if an angel shows up like Gabriel did with such unexpected news; hers are few and right to the heart of the matter --and then she trusts.

I need to learn to be like that.

It's interesting, too, how all the sudden I notice that these chapters point to the temple: Matthew 1 starts with family history, and Zachariah was a priest: a temple worker. And while, yes, the temple was different in those days, I recently had a fascinating conversation with a friend who pointed out a host of ways in which the temple then and the temple now are actually very much the same. Which makes sense, now that I think about it. It's changed the way that I see these verses.

One of the suggestions this week is to look at our own family history, and I think that we'll be doing that. I always feel a little awkward, planning to show family history to the kids: I struggle to know how to do it. But we keep looking at things, and we're slowly figuring out how to do it. It's one of those areas where practice helps. Stories help.

So that's our plan this week: read the chapters, narrate, and probably talk a little about someone from our own family history. Please, take a minute and share what your plans are in the comments.

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01 January 2019

Commonplace Book: late 2018

A sample from my commonplace book, and brief instructions for how to keep one.

A commonplace is a traditional self-education tool: as you read, grab a notebook. Write down things that embody Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Write down notable quotes, with or without your own thoughts about them. Write down the questions you have as a result of the text you are reading. You will find the book becomes a record of your own growth, and it becomes a touchstone for memory of things you have studied in the past. This is what Mother Culture is all about: self-directed, conscious self-education. 

Since the gospel embraces all truth, there can never be any genuine contradictions between true science and true religion. This doesn't preclude the need, however, of thinking through the interrelationships between religion and science as new and interesting discoveries are made. When properly done, the result is necessarily a deeper appreciation of divine goodness and of all the truths of the Gospel.
-Faith of a Scientist, Henry Eyring, 41

Thus, we are part of a grand scheme embracing all of creation, complicated and orderly beyond our most extravagant dreams. In it, there is the order of immutable law. Eclipses and certain atomic interactions can be calculated with any desired degree of accuracy. The universe has been likened to a fine watch, unexpectedly picked up in the desert. One might assume the watch was assembled by accident, but the only reasonable  assumption is that it had a creator who left it there. So it is with this magnificent universe. It is obviously more complicated  than a watch...
-The Faith of a Scientist, Henry Eyring, 44

 Communication of information involves both a sender and a receiver. The Gospel flows out from the Creator of the world who sees the end from the beginning. It flows out to all those who are able to receive it. Too many of those who are blind and deaf to this flow of information foolishly deny the existence of the Creator. How much wiser they would be if, like Helen Keller, they could overcome blindness and deafness and reach out and touch Him.
-The Faith of a Scientist, Henry Eyring, 48

Do not, therefore, attempt to obtain a perfect pronunciation at the first lesson. Talk yourself, talk continuously. At the commencement, let the pupil speak as little as possible; it is in his ear and not on his tongue that it is important to fix the word or the phrase. When the spring is abundant it will flow of itself, and the liquid supplied by it will have the advantage of being pure.

Let us not forget that the little child listens for two years before constructing a phrase, and that he has possession of both the sound and its idea, that is, the spoken word, long before attempting to produce it himself. ...

The spoken word must precede in everything and everywhere the word as read or written. ... Be certain of this, that it is only by thinking directly in the language studied that you will arrive at reading fluently a page of Virgil or a page of Homer.
-The Art of Teaching & Studying Languages, Gouin, p52

"Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything," he shouted, his thick, short arms making wide gestures of indignation, "for 'tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don't you be forgetting it! Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for --worth dying for."

"Oh, Pa," she said disgustedly, "you talk like an Irishman!"

"Have I ever been ashamed of it? No, 'tis proud I am. And don't be forgetting that you are half Irish, Miss! And to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them the land they live on is like their mother. 'Tis ashamed of you I am this minute. I offer you the most beautiful land in the world --saving County Meath in the Old Country-- and what do you do? You sniff!"

Gerald had begun to work himself into a pleasurable shouting rage when something in Scarlett's woebegone face stopped him. "But there. You're young. 'Twill come to you, this love of the land. There's no getting away from it, if you're Irish. You're just a child and bothered about your beaux. When you're older, you'll be seeing how it is.
-Gone With the Wind, p49

24 December 2018

Come Follow Me: Study Ideas

I love that the new Come Follow Me manual is completely choose your own adventure:

Use this resource in any way that is helpful to you.
-page vi

People's needs are so varied; I love that they say up front that there's no wrong way to use the book: do what works for you. And it need not replace good things you are already doing in your home:

You and you family may already be studying the gospel regularly. Maybe you have a goal to read the Book of Mormon. Or maybe you are reading another book of scripture for a seminary or institute class. Come, Follow Me is not meant to replace or compete with the good things you are doing. ... Follow the Spirit's guidance to determine how to approach your own study of the word of God. 
-page vi

Even the schedule is explicitly optional:

The schedule will help you keep up with the material covered in Sunday classes, but don't feel bound by it; the schedule is simply a guide to help you pace yourself. The important thing is that you are learning the gospel individually and as a family.
-page vi (emphasis added)

That last sentence bears repeating: The important thing is that you are learning the gospel individually and as a family. If we are studying the gospel, we are successful. It's that simple. The point is not to answer every question, to read every chapter start to finish, or to stay in lockstep with the class: the point is conversion to Christ, and conversion is a very personal process, a journey that we each take starting where we are right now, and moving toward Him. 

The next few pages, before the lesson outlines start, cover a nice list of possible ways we could choose to study the scriptures: marking verses that deal with the teachings of the Savoir, doing word studies (I shared my work with the word humility a while back), likening scriptures to ourselves, recording your thoughts, feelings, and what you've learned in a journal, studying the scriptures in tandem with the words of modern prophets and apostles (like this verse President Monson used in one of his talks). They've got a pretty good list, but the magical thing about the scriptures is that there's a whole host of good ways to study them. One of their suggestions I like best is to share insights and put things in your own words, and they say:

Discussing insights from your personal study is not only a good way to teach others, but it also helps strengthen your understanding of what you have read. 
-page viii

Basically, what they're recommending here is narration, and that really is a powerful tool: to tell back what you have read, you have to have paid attention, to have understood, and assimilated it to the point that you can give it your own words. I love blogging about things that I'm learning precisely because the process of writing what I've learned is so powerful: it cements in my mind the ideas. But verbal narration is a similarly powerful tool, and in harnessing it, we draw the scriptures deeper into ourselves and help our children draw them deeper into them as well. Keeping it simple: read the chapters, tell it back, and talk about it a little, is what we plan to do. In my experience, simple plans easily executed work better and longer than fancy stuff that requires printouts and preparation. We like it simple: just the scriptures.

However. Academic knowledge gained on our own, as families, or in class is only half the equation: the things we learn need to become the guides for our conduct. It is in the application of scripture that we truly become Christian. Reading is the start, and after that we must live it.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only...
-James 1:22


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11 December 2018

Come Follow Me: Conversion

After they passed out the new books in our meetings this week, my husband and I discussed what we want to do with the extra hour of time on Sunday afternoons, and how we want to deal with the new Come Follow Me manual. We tend to do best with a laid-back approach, and decided that we want to spend some time painting miniatures and talking about the gospel each Sunday. Looking through the lessons, we're going to have to do the readings during the week, probably during school time: we have a very good evening scripture routine that we've decided not to displace. I don't know that we'll always get through all the readings with all the kids: the first week is no problem; it's only 1 chapter. But near the end of the year they've scheduled 11 chapters of Revelation... twice. Revelation is not really easy going, and it may be all three of the kids' first time though it, so we'll see what we can actually do. At least by the time we get there, we'll have some practice at this new format!

I'm really excited that we'll all be doing the New Testament this year; some of the most fundamental things are in the New Testament: the whole of Christ's mortal ministry, and then there are some really beautiful doctrines in the Epistles. I love that we'll all be studying the same thing, that all the classes will be aligned.

And then there's the purpose.

The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. For this reason, when we study the gospel, we're not just looking for new information; we want to become a "new creature". This means relying on Christ to change our hearts, our views, our actions, and our very natures.
-Come Follow Me, introduction

That's beautiful! And it's challenging. It may require a bit of a paradigm change: I usually go looking for new insights, new connections, new information, and just trust the process to create deeper conversion, both for myself, and also for my kids: I trust that if we take in the scripture faithfully, then the process of change, of transformation, of conversion, will happen.

Conversion is an interesting word, really. My husband is an electrical engineer, but he started his education in chemical engineering, and he recently commented that, scientifically, to convert a thing is to totally, fundamentally change it. Remember those science equations?

2H2 + O2 2H2O
Hydrogen and oxygen are completely, wholly different from water. The equation is balanced: none of the atoms got away. But if you convert hydrogen and oxygen into water, then the water is in every way different from the original ingredients. In every way.

Conversion is like that.

The invitation to follow Christ is an invitation to become someone new, someone better: to be wholly changed, wholly converted by His grace into a completely new thing. Thinking about it that way, remembering the bunson burners and charred remains in my high school chemistry class, I'm thinking that it's no wonder that conversion is sometimes an uncomfortable process. Conversion requires that we allow Christ to change our hearts, our views, our actions, our very natures.

Conversion takes time.

It's not a thing that happens all at once; it's a process. Several years ago, Brother Bednar shared the Parable of the Pickle. He talked about how, when you put a cucumber through the pickling process, it becomes something entirely different; the linguist in me notes that it's so different that we have two completely unrelated words for them, and the parent in me is still chuckling over the shocked looks I got from each of them in turn when I told my kids that pickles are made from cucumbers.

Having done some canning, and played around with some fermentation, I love the comparison of conversion to pickling. One interesting thing is that the act of filling your containers with cucumbers and brine is a relatively small part of the process. You could compare going to church and getting the materials and instructions and so forth with putting the pickles in the brine. But if you stop there, just put the cukes in the brine, then take them right back out, which might be compared to going to church on Sunday but not doing anything with it between times, well, then you're going to have wet, salty cucumbers. They won't have sufficient time to be changed. The new streamlined schedule will give us extra time at home to make sure that we're in the scriptures, doing family history, planning service, and organizing things so that we are carefully walking the Christian walk, not just talking the Christian talk.

[The] kind of gospel learning that strengthens our faith and leads to the miraculous change of conversion doesn't happen all at once. It extends beyond a classroom into an individual's heart and home. It requires consistent, daily efforts to understand and live the gospel. True conversion requires the influence of the Holy Ghost. 
-Come Follow Me, introduction (emphasis added)

When you are fermenting, you have to have weights or something that holds the vegetables in the brine: they must be fully submersed. Some types of pickles can take months to make. Even quick tangy fermented carrots or sauerkraut takes several days. But ferments must stay fully submerged the whole time they are changing; otherwise, it gets quite nasty. Chemical conversions also take time, sometimes quite a bit. The extra time in the new schedule, I suspect, is designed for us to organize ourselves and prepare every needful thing, so that we have just that much more space to invite the Savior to fully change us in every way.

What an exciting thought to take into the New Year!

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06 December 2018

A Math Narration

Everybody's a little bit under the weather, especially me, and I wanted to do math, but not worksheets today. Happily, I follow the Let's Play Math page on Facebook, which is always posting something that's both fun and mathy, and they popped up in my feed, so first, I set up my oldest practicing a couple of his troublesome math facts with the cool math-art thing they had. He and I both did some, and I hung them up on our art door.

Well, Dragon didn't want to be left out of the fun math, so I found one for him, too: a thing where you figure out the differences, and I hoped that he'd learn a cool strategy for figuring out differences, which he did. But it ended up being much cooler than that: we ended up looking at even/odd patterns in the difference problems. It started because I wanted to give a problem: "There are 18 candies, Jon has 5 more than Carl. How many does each boy have?" And you end up with Jon having 11.5 and Carl having 6.5. And I wondered which times you'd have to split a candy. So we made a big thing to show it.

It took us a little while to get it right: we skipped a couple of numbers, and we had all of them with the pattern sides up at first, but that was kind of hard to tell one set from the next, so we fiddled with the boxes for a while to get them to go right. But we got there. At the end, I asked Dragon to tell me what he'd learned. So he did.

05 December 2018

Gone With the Wind: Start at the Beginning

When I was in high school, they let us choose a classic to read and write about. I thought that Gone with the Wind would be a fun book to read, and I wanted to write about... I think it was Civil War era fashions. I don't remember, exactly. Could have been something else.

So I started reading, thinking it would be like most of the books I'd read up to that point: the lead would be the hero, or in this case, the heroine.

By the end of the book, I just hated Scarlet, and I hated the book, and I just wanted to chuck it across the room. But it was for school, and I had to write that paper, so I did actually finish the thing. And put it down, and never looked at it again, just thankful to be done.

So, it came up in a book group I'm a member of, and people have been reading it, and it made me remember how much I'd wanted to just slap Scarlet silly last time around. But I also know that I am not who I was: I was right around 16 or 17 myself when I read it, and had never considered learning from books rather than just enjoying stories, no concept of how important supporting characters can be, or a host of other things I've learned about literature since I started homeschooling, and I was curious: would I still hate it as much I did previously? I don't know. I'm not the same person that I was back then; I've grown.

So I called up the used bookshop and they had it. For $3.50. So I grabbed it. And started it.


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