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16 January 2017

Book Box!

Got a box of books in English and Japanese the other day. Actually, it came in three boxes, but it was all one set of books. I love getting books in the mail. The new ones this time are a mix of some books for me, and some books for Hero.  That boy chews through his free-read books! Must be my kid; I used to do the same, back when I had chunks of time for reading. I still read, but not in big chunks of time. And there's a lot to be said for slow reading of books. Not that I ever suspected that until relatively recently! Everything except Utopia is related to our homeschool in one way or another, and Utopia is just for fun, after a conversation with some online friends about Utopia and Ever After. We wish that we could get together and read and drink hot chocolate and chat...

Anyway, here's what we've added to our home library this week. I can't wait to dig in!

Books in English and Japanese for use in our homeschool.

Here, only the top one, Sora and the Cloud, is new. But I'm so excited to read these. I've been working on the bottom one. Its title really translates to something like, "I Belong to Mom", but I call it "The Grumpy Bunny Book". Grumpy little kids are the same all over, and they crack me up, no matter what language it is. This grumpy little bunny is NOT going to marry his mother...

Books in English and Japanese for use in our homeschool.

So what are you up to? What are you reading? Anything in your second language?

13 January 2017

Reaching Your Goals

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

I love setting goals in the New Year. There's a lot of talk in Charlotte Mason circles about the importance of Mother Culture, and this is how I get it done.  Last year I blogged about setting reachable goals, and I set up this chart, which hung on my fridge all year, and when I'd do something towards my various goals, I'd mark it off. Little ticks of incremental progress. My progress toward my goals is measured in baby steps. Little things, simple things, things that I can do in between all the mothering that happens in my day. There's a lot of ticks on the chart; I think this system really helps me to be able to accomplish things that keep me growing, rather than getting stagnant while I focus on my children, and that's important.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

Each category tracks my progress in some area where I want to see myself grow. I want to speak better Japanese; more podcast lessons, more flashcards. It's very hard to measure how well I speak or understand, but it's very easy to see how many lessons I've done or how many flashcards I created. And when I do the lessons or flip the flashcards, I'm making baby steps toward my goal. Life changes as we go along, and partway through the year, I found that I could handle more material from real Japanese people - there's Twitter, where I occasionally post in Japanese, and sometimes read in Japanese. In small, bite-size chunks. And there's that easy news place. And the kids' books I've bought are gradually getting read. And because there was more of that kind of thing, interacting with real language, there was less of the lessons; it's a good trade and I'm happy with my progress. My data helps me to see that progress, which is incredibly valuable. I deliberately make my goals ambitious, so it doesn't bother me at all that I didn't make it to finishing all of them: clear progress is what I am most interested. And I actually did reach a couple of goals: I listened to quite a few herbal podcasts, and the Japanese flashcards goal that I'd set, I really only missed by about 30 flashcards, which was way more than I really thought I'd be able to do.

I didn't read all the books I thought I was going to read. But I did read books, and listened to others. I love a paper book the best, but Librivox is my friend in this season of my life, when time spent sitting still, just me and a book, is so very scarce. It's not the same, but it feeds my soul nearly as well. And my soul likes "eating" books!

 This will be the third year that I do this style of goals, with checklist and so forth. Only, I have lots of goals; tons of things I want to accomplish, lots of things I'd like to see progress on:

I want my 4th degree black belt.
I want to play the banjo.
I want to dust off my piano and use it more.
I want to write my book, instead of just threatening to write it.
I want to read more books.
I want to learn more Japanese.
Welsh, too. I want some more of that.
Because I'm on the Review Crew, I have blogging goals this year that I've committed to.
I have aspirations to improve my watercolor painting and my drawing.
And to put stuff in my nature journal.
And learn more about botany and herbs.
And to write things in my commonplace book.
And do more of that Bible Geography class. 
And to read more books - especially fiction.
And I want to find some more of my ancestors and their stories.

And I'm kind of outgrowing the one page on the fridge method. Because all this stuff has to fit in the cracks of my life, in and around laundry and dishes and cooking and homeschooling and teaching Sunday School and everything else... so most of it is going to happen in 5 to 15 minute chunks: this season of my life is not a big chunks of time for my own study season. This season is a season of teaching and of snuggling and doing projects and sharing my time and myself with my children -- and it's going fast: I don't have any babies any more; we're done with that season. There won't be a do-over on this season with my kids; I need to do it now, while it's here. My books and projects are, for the most part, patient. But I can have little pieces of time, if I can harvest them.

However, to keep all those irons in the fire, or at least close enough that they don't cool off completely, I need something more than my fridge goal sheet.

Hurray for Bullet Journals.

I built me one, around a month ago. In a leftover composition notebook, covered with scrapbook paper and washi tape. And made tough enough to toss in my purse and drag from pillar to post by covering the whole works with contact paper. Comes to a grand total of something like $2, $6, if you count the pens that I bought. And it's pretty, which makes me want to use it. Tried it out before the New Year to decide if I wanted to go with that system.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

I love it.

I have resisted building a Bullet Journal for a long time, now, because you see these fancy pants journals on Pinterest, and ain't nobody got time for that! They're beautiful. But my goal keeper cannot be an art journal too, or the goals part won't happen. I needed something, and it turns out that the basic Bullet Journal concept is really simple and elegant.

Being unable to follow instructions, I didn't start with what the tutorials say to start with, I started with the thing that I am feeling pushed to do by the Spirit, but haven't been getting anywhere on: my book. And I made a tracker for that.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

Because you put the big golf balls in first.

My next priority was to get set up to track my study projects. Some of them I do frequently, some are only a couple of times a month. I like having them all on a single chart, because then I can see which ones are getting attention regularly, and which ones are getting neglected.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

Right about this time, I realized that the boxes on the video are squares because that's how the paper is marked, but I don't have to do it that way. So they've been skinny since then, which I like better. And I decided that I only like my grids on one page, not stretching across two. I've made a collection of charts to track various things since then. I stink at thinking up chores that need to be done around the house. I like a clean place, but I'm not at all talented at making it happen. Now, the thinking part is done, and the kids and I just do the stuff on the chart. It's amazing. I have a chart of daily and near-daily stuff, and one for monthly work too, right next to each other, so I see them both when I'm passing out family work.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

This is the one page where I really let myself get arty about it, partly because the idea is so fun (Thank you, Pinterest!) I have two books going right now, and I'm really looking forward to finishing one of them so that I can color in the next book... such a geeky thing to get excited over. I drew way too many books, but if I read short works in Japanese they're totally going on here, too. Even picture books.

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

In this case, I can tell that I needed to tweak the way that I set up my chart. I want to do the Benjamin Franklin writing method, where he copied, sumarized, and re-wrote excellent writing. This one is really tough to break up into bite-size pieces, and it's not going as fast as I'd hoped at first, so I re-did the chart when the first one ran out of room. (Do you like my Japanese dates? It's the only thing that ever has helped me with learning to function in their dates at all: using them for my planner is great for that.)

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

And the Bullet Journal method for daily stuff is awesome, too. This one is from December 17-19. I actually got all my Christmas cards sent this year, because it just kept being on the list, and I kept chipping away at it -- and it was awesome!

Finding time for Mother Culture by using a bullet journal to record and track my goals for the New Year.

I've been using the Bullet Journal for about a month. It took about a week for me to get it fully set up, and since then, it's just been amazing. It's a stripped down, only the basics kind of method, and it's working. I'm actually progressing at least a little bit on almost all my projects.

That's pretty amazing, actually. I've never done that before.
Gotta love finding the right tool for the job.

See what other homeschool mamas are doing with their goals:

12 January 2017

On Classical Education: Ordered Affections

On the importance of learning to order (prioritize) our affections in Classical education, as well as in the rest of our lives.

This post is part of a series:

Character is the True Aim
Cultivation of Godly Character
What is a Student? 
Make Haste Slowly
Much Not Many
Ordered Affections (this post)
Repetition is the Mother of Memory
Embodied Learning
Songs Chants and Jingles
Wonder and Curiosity
Educational Virtues
By Teaching We Learn
Classical Education is Like a Table

I am intrigued by this idea of "ordered affections." It comes up again and again in the writings of people who know Classical Education well, and it's a beautiful fit, doctrinally. But it's not something that I've really heard explicitly discussed often: it's the idea that there is a correct order or priority to not just the things that we love, but the activities we do, and really, to every part of our lives.

 "St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it."
-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Certainly, there is plenty of talk about priorities, but I've always thought of that as a sort of to-do list, where it's important to get the right things at the top of the list. This concept of "ordered affections" is more, it's more nuanced, and less concerned with the outer actions of the to-do list, and more with the inward motivations, in educating the inward heart. I like that. And, being educators, the people I've been reading and listening to have quite a bit to say about what ought to be done about it, in terms of helping our children to order their own affections correctly. That quote from C.S. Lewis comes up again and again, which makes me want to find a copy of The Abolition of Man:

"St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. The little human animal will not, at first, have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful."
-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Part of me wants to recoil from the idea of teaching that things are hateful, but then I remember what Alma said, and I think it's not so bad to teach this, after all:

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.
-Alma 13:12, emphasis added

Setting my children's feet on a path toward the Lord's rest is exactly what I am trying to do in my parenting -- including in our educational choices. There is this about Christ's attitudes toward this concept, as well, from Dr. Perrin:

Jesus often signals an ordo amoris, telling the rich, young ruler there is one thing he lacks (Matt. 19) and telling Martha that though she is busy about many things, Mary has chosen what is best: to converse with him rather than prepare dinner (Luke 10). When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds that there are two: to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22). Jesus seems to believe that there is a divinely ordered hierarchy of loves and pleasures.
-Christopher Perrin, I Would Like to Order... an Education

Classical Christian Education asserts that there are objective standards of Truth, objective standards of Goodness, and objective standards of Beauty, and further says that we have a duty to instruct our children in these standards, as Lewis said, "to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful." Putting character at the heart of education, re-enthroning it as the true aim of education, and then really acting as if that (and not a generous adult income) is the main priority requires a whole different way of thinking about what we do and why we are doing it. It's a completely different paradigm from wanting to create "college readiness": it's more that just knowing the facts and skills that typically lead to a good income. It's that and also having the wisdom to know that there is more to life than a career, the wisdom to recognize the reality that we are the children of God and behave in a way that befits that kind of heritage: to become more fully human.

We have this desire to give our kids what we call an academically "rigorous" education. Andrew Kern and Christopher Perrin both taught me a bit about that. ... I asked them how we could pursue a rigorous education while retaining a sense of rest. What I didn't realize at the time was that the word "rigor" comes from the Latin rigor, rigoris, which means "numbness,stiffness, hardness, firmness, roughness, rudeness." Rigor mortis literally means "the stiffness of death," which I think we can all agree is not the goal of homeschooling our children!

Don't aim for rigorous education, Kern and Perrin both told me. If we are aiming to order our children's affections, learn to love what is lovely, join in the great conversation, and cultivate a soul so that the person is ready in every sense of the word to take on the challenges around the corner and on the other side of the college entrance exams; work toward "diligence" instead.

"Diligence" come from the Latin diligere, which means to "single out, value highly, esteem, prize, love; aspire to, take delight in, appreciate." What we are really aiming for in giving our children a rigorous education is not just doing hard things, but cultivating a habit of focused attention. The word "student" comes from the Latin studium, meaning "Zeal, affection, eagerness." A diligent student, then, takes delight, eagerly and with great zeal, in what he loves.
-Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest, 4-5

In addition to doctrinal and philosophical reasons to consider the concept of ordering our affections, there are some compelling practical reasons, too. All education is self-education: it doesn't matter how good the teaching is, if the student does not engage, then no learning happens. Genuine education requires active choice on the part of the learner.

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.”
-Katrina Gutleben

As we come to prize the good, the true, and the beautiful, then we become hungry, curious, and the love of learning ignites. We need to help our children acquire studium, so that they can become real students, rather than just being officially "in school".

“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
-Charlotte Mason

But in this process, we can't behave haphazardly and expect it to create order. The process of bridling our passions is something that needs to be happening in both teachers and children. The Psalmist talks about learning to bridle our mouth, and Alma speaks more broadly about bridling our passions. In the Church, we often talk about this in terms of bridling sexual passions, but I think that I prefer the broader definition of passions in that it's things and topics and activities that we enjoy and become passionate about, to one degree or another. This concept includes, but is not limited to, sexual passions. And in this context, we want to put God at the apex, making Him the thing that we are most passionate about - that we love the most - and that we are teaching our children to love the most as well. This process of ordering our passions will require self-discipline. In homeschool, this requires planning, rather than just strewing opportunities and hoping for the best. It means that sometimes we pass on this, because that is a better choice.

Is self-denial wise because there is something wrong with our passions, or because there is something right with our passions? Alma taught his son: “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” (Alma 38:12; emphasis added.) He did not say we should suppress or eliminate our passions but rather bridle them—harness, channel, and focus them. Why? Because disciplining our passions makes possible a richer, deeper love.
-Bruce & Marie Hafen, Bridle All Your Passions

When we correctly order our affections, we can give them our best, and receive from them the best they have to offer. By putting things in their proper place, we can most fully learn to love learning, and gain the best returns from the effort that we put into education.

Knowledge of truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education. The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education. The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem. 
-Joseph F. Smith

10 January 2017

SchoolhouseTeachers.com Yearly Membership {Crew Review}

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {SchoolhouseTeachers.com}

The first thing I learned when I clicked over to SchoolhouseTeachers.com is that they're a division of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. And what a great resource!  They have so many interesting online courses as well as resources for homeschool parent support, including homeschool planners. Many of their resources that could supplement our Classical style of homeschooling. They have online courses designed for all ages, from preschool to parent; a number of the varied options they offer for high school looked interesting enough for me to want to do them, and they also have several offerings specifically for adults. This review is for their Yearly Membership, so there's enough time to do several of their offerings during one membership. Here are a few of the options that I thought sounded interesting on my first glance through their extensive list:

For the kids:
All About the Alphabet (Preschool)
Creation, Nature, and You (Elementary)
Keyboarding (Elem.-High School)
Beginning Latin (Elem. - High School)
Web Game Design (Middle - High School)
Checks and Balances (Elem. - Middle School)
Free Market Economics (Middle - High School)
Creative Storytelling (Elem. - Middle School)
Scientific Method (Elem. - Middle School)

For me:
Geography of the Bible (High School)
History of Christianity (High School)
How to Teach Elementary Math (Family)
Going Deeper: The Books of the Bible (High School)
Learning to Write the Charlotte Mason Method (Family)

All of the courses that I looked at were either web-based, downloadable, or a combination of the two: watch a film, then download some additional work to do at home. The amount of prep work for the teacher varied considerably between the courses that I worked with, and there are so many more available than the ones that I looked at, so make sure you click through to check out courses that other Crew members used in their homes. Here's the categories that SchoolhouseTeachers offer:

High-quality, Self-paced, Online Homeschool Resources {SchoolhouseTeachers.com}


And here are the three courses that I selected for our family to actually use:

Beginning Latin

Hero(10) had outgrown our old Latin introductory course, so I was pleased to discover that SchoolhouseTeachers offers Beginning Latin, and when we tried it, we both like the simple no-frills style. It's an online course: we watch movies, then he has some worksheets to fill out.

A review of the SchoolhouseTeachers.com online courses: Yearly Membership with the Homeschool Review Crew.

He says he likes "the way they bring in the words, with nothing else to pay attention to, so you can focus on just that." I like that he likes it, and that it's moving further into Latin, introducing conjugations and declensions, which he hasn't seen before; he's ready for it. The pace seems to be good for him, as well: not too fast, not too slow.

All About the Alphabet

I decided to try out All About the Alphabet with Peanut(4), to finish off learning her letters and sounds. This is a fun add-on course, a nice bonus in addition to the other courses that fit our family, but it's not enough to be worth the subscription if it's the only one you want. It's simple and straightforward: you get a PDF with activities to do for each letter, and ideas for making books for the letters. We jumped in at A.

A review of the SchoolhouseTeachers.com online courses: Yearly Membership with the Homeschool Review Crew.

A review of the SchoolhouseTeachers.com online courses: Yearly Membership with the Homeschool Review Crew.

There are several things that I really like about doing this course. One is that I don't have to think up all the things that begin with each letter; they have a nice list. And the activities they suggest are varied and interesting. However, the course didn't come with any printables, so I had to make up my own. It wouldn't have been very difficult to include those, and is disappointing that they chose not to. Printables would have made this course completely open-and-go, which would have been better. That being said, we're having a blast at it - Dragon(6) is even kind of jealous that he isn't in preschool anymore - and Peanut is learning both the names and the sounds, which is exactly what is supposed to be happening.

Geography of the Bible

The last course that I chose is the high school course Geography of the Bible for myself. The course is set up as a series of videos, each with a list of Biblical passages used.  The first concern I always have with Bible material produced outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its membership is denominational differences: will it stick to just the simple text of scripture, or will it be overtly Protestant? I watched Moses: Exploring the Exodus, a 45 minute tour of the lands of the Israelite captivity and Exodus, and the movie was excellent. The script often quoted the exact words of the Bible's text. The scenery was beautiful. Similarly, Hebron: City of Promise was excellent. They told the story faithfully, but were also frank about the uncertainty in the archeological record. I didn't notice any interdenominational theology conflict problems at all, and found the video material to be quite interesting.

The main thing I found odd for a geography course was that there are very few maps in the videos, and none in the additional materials, and that was disappointing. When I checked with customer support, they told me that, no, I hadn't missed anything, and that it's more of a "lands, culture, and people from the particular area of study," and not so much of map work. But the main reason I picked this course is that the geography -meaning the location of events and people- is all a mushy mess in my head, and I can't wrap my head around the nuances of what's happening with "lands, culture, and people from the particular area of study," -- until I put them on a map. I need to trace the course of events, myself, preferably on a blackline map, (and not a ready-made one, with everything all marked up) to really get what is happening. For me, this is a major omission; I had to find outside maps.


I love this course. It is easily the best of the ones we've tried.

I actually drew and painted my own Exodus map (and there's nothing like drawing a thing to make you really see it), then went back and re-watched the video, pausing in places to write stuff down and look places and people up, I looked up some verses, and looked at some of the recommended archeology resources and research assignments, and the whole process was delightful and incredibly informative, and I absolutely would not have done my own map, nor thought nearly so hard about where things ought to be placed, and the relationships of places, and the impact that had on how the story went, had there been maps included. It makes a beautiful addition to my scripture journal, and I plan to put in some information about the various Pharaohs and other historical notes behind it. I'm pretty excited about the prospect of having a little collection of these in my notebook, as I look at various Bible stories; they have units covering all the major Bible stories, both Old Testament and New Testament.

A review of the SchoolhouseTeachers.com online courses: Yearly Membership with the Homeschool Review Crew.

Looking at their research assignments for the the two units that I've worked on in the time that I've had the materials to review, I feel like this is a course that a high school student is going to need some assistance with, unless all you want for them to do is just watch the movies, and they'd really be missing out if that's all they do. Both units come with a great variety of research topics - enough that you could almost turn either one of the units into a complete semester; it's not intended that the student will answer every question. In the Moses unit they're good about referring the student to research materials and I was readily able to find research materials for the topics they propose, but in the Hebron unit it's just... questions. And when I started trying to search for the answers, I found it tough going even as an adult: there are a lot of opinions out there on Bible archaeology, and if you don't have a guide, then it's hard to know how to judge between them. So that was a little bit frustrating. On the flip side, though, it did lead me to dig in deeper and think harder, trying to figure things out. But I do think that a high school student would benefit from having an adult mentor do the course with them. And that's not a bad thing: it creates tons of opportunities for discussing both geography and doctrine.

This course is something I am enjoying tremendously, and I would absolutely recommend it to my friends, and I really look forward to when I can work on it after the kids go to sleep. It can be tough to squeeze out time to work on this sort of thing when you're the Mom, but I'm going to keep chipping away at it, because it's just so interesting. I am learning so much and it is really enhancing my understanding of the stories covered in both these units. I'm excited to complete this course, and really glad that I'll have a whole year to do it.

In the course of working with these courses, I ended up talking to customer support twice (once to ask about the maps for the geography course, and once to ask about finding the worksheets for Latin when they were migrating to the lovely new-and-improved version of their site), and they make it so easy: there's a little chat box at the bottom of their pages anytime you're signed in, and so talking to a real person is quick and painless, which is a huge bonus. Customer service, and what happens when things aren't going perfectly, can be a really telling experience when working with a company, and in this case, I couldn't have asked for better. Schoolhouse Teachers is welcome addition to our homeschool day.

You can connect with Schoolhouse Teachers in their Facebook Group. To read what other Crew families have to say about the SchoolhouseTeachers Yearly Subscription, please click the box below.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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06 January 2017

Odd Bits: Happy New Year

Odd Bits from around the internet about learning Japanese and Welsh, drawing, and a Christmas Poem.

Someplace to Help: 

One of my high school girlfriends had a house fire on Christmas Day. The whole place, and all their belongings, all of it a complete loss, including the family business that they ran out of the house. All their people and even their cat got out safely, but everything else is a total loss. One of their relatives set up a GoFundMe in their behalf.

Something Japanese: 

Last month, I read about how many words are used in various different languages. Apparently, Japanese is a heavy-hitter. But in most of languages, you don't need that many to say what's on your mind, only about 3,000 words. Which is not so bad. And it got me thinking: if I found a word frequency dictionary, then I could look for high-frequency words that I don't know yet. And I found one. Cool. Looks pretty straight-forward to use, too, which is even better.

Something of Nature: 

We've been sick a lot over the past while. Makes it hard to go outside and look at nature, which is already hard in winter around here! But it also gives us an opportunity to work on some of the seeing skills that are so important when doing Nature Study. And our current favorite resources are from John Muir Laws's website. We started with the Drawing Birds Tutorial, which has a lengthy video workshop. Both boys worked on that over a period of a couple of days, with plenty of drawing practice in between. Hero understands that it's drawing from a model that's the kind of art under study here, and he's been doing some lovely work. Dragon has been doing more drawing of super-heroes he's making up, but I'm happy with that, too. It doesn't speak exactly to the goals, but he's still developing the skills that put his ideas on paper, and feeling successful at it. I'm working on a Cedar Waxwing that will eventually be a watercolor painting  I've got my eye on the How to Draw Hawks workshop next, and want to spend some time browsing around his site to see what other goodies there are. There's a lot of them. Plus, he's got books.

Something Poetic: 

Have you seen this? I've liked I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day for a long time, but I hadn't realized there was such a moving story behind it. For a long time I thought I didn't much care for poetry. I had no idea what I was missing out on. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the greats, but I hardly know anything about him. Clearly, this needs to change.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep...

Something Sacred:  

I've been messing around at learning Welsh for a while, and while progress is slow, there is progress. I always like to have scripture in the language that I'm learning, and decided recently that it's time to find some in Welsh. But the Church hasn't kept their editions up: Welsh was the first language that the Book of Mormon was translated into, and it hasn't even been put into verse format, and they don't offer a Bible at this time, either; I'm guessing that's because it's likely that nearly all Welsh speakers also speak English. But I want something to work with, especially if I can find something that's got an audio format. I found this version, which I think is the Morgan Bible and holds the same respect as English's King James Version, but if I try to read that, I'm almost certain to butcher the pronunciation... I need something to imitate. Audio. And I have to be able to find my way to whatever I find in English. I'm still hopeless in Cymraeg. But check out this 1588 Bible. It's beautiful. I wish my Bible was so lovely. I love illuminations. Looks like it might have a Latin introduction to a Welsh text. Gorgeous. Gonna have to keep looking around.

03 January 2017

Foreign Language Comparison

How to use your second language in your scripture study, even if you're not good at the language yet.

One of the things that I love to do is to do some of my scripture reading in a foreign language. Years ago, I read the whole Book of Mormon in Spanish. I didn't do anything special (and I never got very good at the language -- you don't need to be terribly fluent, just stubborn and willing to go slow); I just read stuff. Usually with my Spanish book and my English book side-by-side. One of my favorite passages comes from that effort. I was cruising along, starting to pick up just a little bit of speed, getting into 2 Nephi, where I read this.

Adán cayó para que los hombres existiesen; y existen los hombres para que tengan gozo.
-2 Nefi 2:25 

It's a pretty well known verse, but I was working hard, and didn't recognize it when I read it, which turned out to be a good thing: it's easy to let your brain turn off when reading things that are extremely familiar, but that didn't happen this time. I still remember how the next verse slammed into me:

Y el Mesías vendrá en la plenitud de los tiempos, a fin de redimir a los hijos de los hombres...
-2 Nefi 2:26

I stopped what I was doing, grabbed the English book, and read the passage again:

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.  And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall...
-2 Nephi 2:25-26

I've never looked at that passage the same since then, and I've never been able to think of the Fall of Adam without feeling the connection to the mission of the Messiah. Before that day, I'd never really noticed the connection, even though it should have been obvious. I'd seen the bit about joy, but never really understood the connection of joy to either Adam or the Redemption. The experience gave me a taste for doing some of my scripture study in another language that I've never lost. (As an added bonus, it's really good for your language study, even if you only read in very small bursts).

Japanese is my language that I'm messing around with now, and I'm very, very slow at it. But, because of the cool electronic tools they've come up with, it's way easier this time to not only read, but to start to integrate it into topical study. Right now, I'm looking at the concept of "intent". Which isn't a word we use a lot in English, outside of the phrase "real intent". It was kind of mushy in my head. But Japanese, it turns out, has a number of really descriptive ways of saying it.

Japanese is cool. It gets a bad rap as being hard to learn because the writing system is pretty exotic, but really, learning to write is the secret to success with the language: a huge percent of the language is compound words, so once you learn the basic meanings of about 2000 words, you can tell a lot about the meaning of thousands more. Our word intent has been translated in a whole bunch of ways when they put it in Japanese. The first one I noticed was mokuteki.

Looks like this:

How to use your second language in your scripture study, even if you're not good at the language yet.

There's two characters in this compound, the first one means eye -- it even almost looks like an eye -- and the second one means target. Intent: the eye's target. I was talking to a friend of mine about this, and she told me that when her mom was teaching her to bowl, she told her to keep her eye on the front pin, or the space between the pins, because where here eye was -her intent- that's where her ball was going to go. We do something similar in the marital arts, with the toes, knees, punch, and also the eyes and will, all pointing to the same thing. If one of them points elsewhere, beside where your opponent is, then your punch looses power. It's interesting to think of how that can be described as  "confused intent", if all the various components of our actions are not aligned properly into "real intent".

It's a whole line of thought, as well as a whole conversation about the scriptures with my friend, that never would have happened without my efforts at reading the scriptures in a second language. And this isn't the only word that's used in the Japanese where it just says "intent" in English; I've found seven variants so far, and each one of them sheds a little more light on the concept. What I think would be really interesting would be to then search those words and phrases, and see what they become when they come back into English: is it only "intent" or do they translate into other words and phrases as well?

Changing languages is really easy on the website: in the top right corner is a little world. Click it, then pick your language. For this project, I've had the English search on my computer screen, and the Japanese on my phone. Switching the iPhone app to a new language is a little more involved, but once you do it once, you can set up a bookmark, which makes switching back and forth really easy. And there are side-by-side versions for the iPhone, too, in a bunch of languages. (Sorry, I know nothing about Android, but I can't imagine it's very difficult.)

So try it out. Dust off your high school language, or your mission language, or take the plunge into the language you've been wanting to learn. It's ok if you only do a verse, or even part of a verse, when you're starting. It's OK to be a beginner; it's OK to not understand everything at first; it takes time to get quick at it. It's OK to go slow; there's no right speed for scripture, and sometimes it's remarkable what slowing waaaaay down does for making me ponder verses that I've overlooked. It's a fun kind of work. And it pays rich dividends in terms of insights that just aren't available in your native tongue.

We're studying the Bible; We'd love you to come join us.

01 January 2017

Commonplace Book: December

Selections from my Commonplace Book, collected from this month's reading. Topics include martial arts, self-education, Christmas, herbalism, ratification of the US Constitution, homeschooling.

A 'kamae' is not simply a posture, but a posture for a specific purpose. It might be to use a weapon, a tool, or even to hold a tennis racket. You're not just holding it and posing. You're holding it in a way that will make it efficient and effective. A kamae consists of two parts; a 'mi-game' (body kamae) and a 'kokoro game' (mind kamae... i.e. an 'attitude'). A kamae displays 'body language' ... A sword kamae might convey a threat to one part of the opponent while at the same time offering a part of you as a target (AND making sure that the bait you've given is actually covered!). Obviously, you don't want to show weak body language to the opponent. Strong body language can win a fight before it happens. There is no such thing as 'weak' kamae. If it's weak, it's not kamae... because kamae is, by definition, an effective and efficient way to use the body for a certain task.

I recently see some terrible kamae in Honbu Dojo, from people getting up to take the godan test. So many people seem to kneel down in front of the person giving the test with round shoulders and neck... almost like they are sitting in a fetal position (Is that even possible?). The body language that their kamae gives to me is "I'm terrified and don't feel confident at all!" I wish they'd sit there with a little stronger attitude! If you fail the test, it may hurt... but it's not going to kill you!

Sit tall, sit proud, and take whatever comes like a man (or a woman!). You'll move, or you'll get hit. Simple! Either way, good kamae is the best way to handle what comes! That should be your first thought when sitting down for the test!
-Shihan Mark Lithgow, Facebook, 13 June 2016

Serious reading is hard work. This should comfort you. If successful reading is a matter of innate intelligence, you can do little to improve yourself. But a task that is merely difficult can be broken down into small and manageable steps, and mastered through diligent effort. Reading the Great Books is no different.
-Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind, 41

The custom of exchanging presents on a certain day in the year is very much older than Christmas, and means very much less. It has obtained in almost all ages of the world, and among many different nations. It is a fine thing or a foolish thing, as the case may be; an encouragement to friendliness, or a tribute to fashion; an expression of good nature, or a bid for favor; an outgoing of generosity, or a disguise of greed; a cheerful old custom, or a futile old farce, according to the spirit which animates it and the form which it takes.

But when this ancient and variously interpreted tradition of a day of gifts was transferred to the Christmas season, it was brought into vital contact with an idea which must transform it, and with an example which must lift it to a higher plane. The example is the life of Jesus. The idea is unselfish interest in the happiness of others.

The great gift of Jesus to the wold was himself. He lived with and for men. He kept back nothing. In every particular and personal gift that he made to certain people there was something of himself that made it precious.
-The Spirit of Christmas

The muscular and  skeletal system... develops out of the mesoderm, or middle layer of the fetal organism. From the initial connective tissue cells develop cartilage, bone, tendons, and muscles. This should teach us about the underlying unity behind muscular and skeletal disturbances. Whether we are dealing with arthritis (inflammation of the joints), rheumatoid arthritis (connective tissue autoimmune disorder), fibromyalgia (pain of the muscle fibers), rheumatism (the old fashioned name for muscular and skeletal aches and pains in general), osteoporosis, broken bones, or tendonitis, we should be aware of the continuity in origin and possible treatment strategy. All too often, this background unity is lost in the modern era of specialization.
-Herbal Treatment for the Muscular and Skeletal System

Almost immediately on returning, both houses of the new [New Jersey] legislature unanimously authorized delegate elections. The wording of both resolutions reveals the sense of overwhelming consensus; the original charge was "to deliberate upon, agree to, and ratify." Later, this was amended to read, "to deliberate upon and if approved by them to ratify," thus at least admitting the possibility that the convention might come to a negative decision or at least allowing it the right to do so.
-Ratifying the Constitution, Gillespie and Lienesch, 72

...for he used often to say, that the way to heaven was the same from all places, and he that had no grave had the heavens still over him.

"God's providence is rich to his,
Let none distrustful be;
In wilderness, in great distress,
These ravens have fed me."
-Roger Williams, Introduction to The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution

Here is the bare truth: Not an hour passes without the enormity of the task I have taken on bringing me to my knees. This work of homeschooling and raising hearts and souls and bodies is hard. It is more than I can do in my own strength. Even so, more than anything else, I desire to teach and mother in a way that pleases God. Some days that feels like feeding the five thousand. But He is not asking me to feed the five thousand; He just wants me to bring my basket of loaves and fishes and lay them at His feet.
-Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest, Preface

God doesn't call us to this work and then turn away to tend to other, more important matters. He promises to stay with us, to lead us, to carry us. He assures us that if we rely on Him alone, then He will provide all that we need. What that means on a practical level is that we have to stop  comparing. ... We toil because we long to be like the man in Psalm 1, who is "like a tree planted in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all he does, he prospers (1:3)".

The heart of this book is about remembering what our true task really is, and then throwing ourselves in completely. Giving our all. The raising of children, the teaching of truth, the sharing of life, the nourishing of imagination, and the cultivating of wisdom: The are all His anyway; we are merely His servants.
-Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching From Rest, xvi-ii

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

29 December 2016

2016: Challenges and Change

Some similarities in facing challenges and experiencing change in fitness and in Christian life.

I've seen this quote several times now. First it was a Pinterest fitness motivation thing. It caught my attention as much because I'm working on learning that pose as anything. I have scoliosis, so balance poses are a particular challenge and this is a very long term project.

Then I think I saw it in my Facebook feed. It came up the other day again, just as I was starting to think about a year-in-review kind of post, which made me think about it in a whole different light.

This has been a tough year. 

The old job decided to make working on the Sabbath mandatory; we quit instead, last January. There were other things going on too, but that was the thing that tore it.

But remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all they work: but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work...
-Exodus 20:8-10

We had a go at a business, but market fluctuations following the Brexit forced the Daddy back into a day job. 

We thought for a while we might lose our house, but things stabilized. 

The new day job is an absolute nightmare, and the pay is a lot less, the hours longer, and the physical demands more punishing than the old one.  And the bosses... oi.

Lingering bills from our NICU stay are still complicating our finances; even with insurance, a NICU stay is expensive. 

And now the new job is pondering seven day work weeks: Sunday work.
Which we still. won't. do.

So it's been a challenging year. Now, thanks to this quote, I'm looking for how it's changing me. I'm still not sure what it's doing for me, honestly. Sometimes it's hard to see these things in the fire, in the process. But I think that it's significant that this started out as a fitness quote.

Fitness isn't something that has ever come easily for me. I left school convinced that I couldn't run, couldn't throw, couldn't catch: that's what they taught me in gym class. Turns out it's all a lie; I can do those things: my body is not a lemon. There's reasons why running is so difficult: scoliosis means that my lungs are perpetually squished. Which makes breathing hard when I'm working. Like when I run. And once nobody was mocking my efforts, once there was a little bit of encouragement instead of scorn from teachers and peers alike, turns out throwing and catching are things that I'm merely inexperienced at -- but can learn. Still. I spent a long time thinking that I couldn't, and there's habits and patterns that followed that have to be overcome --and the small matter of healing my spine-- before I can have an athlete's body. It's a long journey; the vast majority of it happens between my ears.

Fitness makes a nice metaphor. I tell my kids that learning is like growing a muscle: you do it, and it gets easier, because the "muscle" grows stronger. There's lots of stuff -most things, actually- that works like that. This year has been growing some muscles for our family. How to work together, how to find a way to keep going. How to lean on the Lord, to trust Him to make good on His promise to make it possible to keep the commandments. That's a pretty good "muscle" to have well-developed.

PS. To see what other homeschool bloggers are saying about their year, stop by:

Homeschool Review Crew Reflecting on 2016


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