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30 May 2016

June Watercolor Challenge

This is the sixth of our watercolor challenges - next month we'll be halfway through the year-long project! This month's logo is "Italian Girl", by Joseph Tapiró. I found it on the Google Art Project, and I'm just so impressed by how much detail he persuaded out of his watercolors! I'd like to figure out how to do that, at some point.

This month from our book, we're in chapter 7: The Blues. Which is wonderful: the color the author calls indigo is my favorite color - right there straddling the line between deep blue and rich purple.So I'm very much looking forward to playing with some of the blues. There's quite a lot of shades of blue, and apparently a lot of choice when it comes to buying tubes of blue, so there are many options in the book for copying, and lots of tips about mixing the various blues with other colors.

Instead of just watching some time-lapse videos this time, I went looking for some dry-brush techniques, because I'm hoping that learning to do dry brushing will help add some sharpness and detail to at least some parts of my paintings. Here are a few that I enjoyed:

This one is a quick introduction.

This one has some instructions on how to build the colors and add highlights, and I'm thinking the artist's brush must be considerably dryer than what I usually do when he was working on the sections of the cut orange.

Here are a couple of inspirations I found on Pinterest, when you're ready to try your hand at painting something:

And that's it! Happy painting! Don't forget to stop by and show us your work!

24 May 2016

Likin' Lichen

A while back,  we headed out to our park. It was cold - there were even a few snowflakes in the air - but I'm so glad we went anyway: it was a really productive day. I saw quite a few birds, and put in a nice checklist on eBird, which I love to do. And we all made entries in our nature journals. This one is mine - pretty sure that it's a Buckthorn, which is one of the invasives that troubles our preserve, but I'm not positive, since I'm very weak on identifying things without leaves. We accidentally sent one of our nature books home with our friends that we go out with... oops.

The nature journals still feel a bit awkward, but I think we're slowly getting into something of a groove with those. Hero(9) drew some interesting lines he found in the dirt under the tower we usually visit. I have no idea what they were about; it looked raked; my feeling was that they were probably made by a person, not a critter, and definitely not a natural process. But I have no idea what would lead someone to rake interesting designs into the dirt under the tower.

Dragon(5) has begun to notice that his drawings are not very true to what he sees, and it frustrates him. I may have to ponder how to help him improve his skills. Hero is working on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which I used when I started drawing, but Dragon doesn't read well enough to do that, yet. Hmmmm.... I thought he did well, but I will have to think about how to support him, since he is dissatisfied.

But the day's really cool discovery didn't make it into our books. Not yet, anyway.

Miss H found this really cool mossy thing and brought it over to me. I took a picture and posted it to the Plant ID group I found on Facebook. They are always so kind, and today was no exception. They told me right away that it's lichen, not moss. And one guy even offered to share some macro photography he does, so the kids can see. We plan to get together with Miss H's family and do some learning about lichens and drawing in our nature journals. In the mean time, I will also be on the look out for opportunities to share information about lichens with the kids turns out they're pretty interesting.

22 May 2016

Peace Like a River

I've been toying with the idea of trying my hand at sumi-e for a long time. Even bought a book, and The Daddy brought me a number of cool supplies from various trips to Japan he's taken over the past several years. But I've been too chicken to have a serious go at it.

Now I've got a verse that I want use to create an art to hang up.

O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.

It's beautiful in Japanese:


There's a number of things here that make me love this more in Japanese. If you hearken is fantastic: ​聞き​従ったら. 聞 means to listen, and 従 is to obey/submit. They're used in a compound verb, so it's both to listen and to obey/submit: hearken.

The way they build the word for peace is also extremely descriptive.  平安 means both peace and tranquility, and it's a compound where 平 means even, flat, or peace, and my dictionary says 安 means relax, quiet, contented and peaceful. So to wrap that all up, a flat, even, quiet, peaceful scene -- in this context, a smooth, peaceful river.

Your peace will be like a river.

If we want the blessing - the peace of a smooth, calm river - then we need to comply with the law upon which the blessing is predicated. Which is to say, we need to keep the commandments. So, if we're missing the peace, then we need to look for the commandment that we're neglecting. In my case this week, I think it was forgiveness. And as soon as I realized that, and asked for help, then the peace started to roll back in.

I want to remember this, and I think it would be cool if I could learn to do something like this:

It's going to take me some time to learn to do something like that, but I found this, and thought it was a good place to start. Looks like it should be pretty straight-forward to follow -- and I even understand part of the instructions he's giving!

20 May 2016

20 Principles: Limits of Authority

This post is part of a series. Feel free to visit the series index for more thoughts on Charlotte Mason's 20 Principles of Classical Education.

It is extremely important that parents should keep in view, and counteract if need be, the tendencies of the day. On the other hand, it is well that they should understand the limitations of authority. Even the divine authority does not compel.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching the Branches, (emphasis added)

It's wrong to force your will on someone else. There are a lot of names for this idea. Libertarian philosophy calls it the Non-Agression Principle. The Founders referred to the pursuit of happiness as an inalienable Right. I've seen some beautiful essays about Free Will from the Protestant tradition. And Mormon theology holds Agency - the power of choice - at the core of our doctrine, and teaches that, next to life itself, agency is one of the greatest gifts of God to man. Even the Atonement itself presupposes freedom of choice.

Whatever you call it, the capacity to chose is a sacred, holy thing.

It's also very unpopular in our culture right now, and it's become both ordinary and fashionable, often even seen as virtuous, to try to force others to your view and to acting on your view. So trying to parent in a way that isn't coercive and destructive of Agency -- yet still effective at teaching our children, as parents have an inescapable obligation to do -- can be very challenging and even counter-cultural.

Perhaps parents, great as they are and should be in the eyes of their children, should always keep well to the front the fact that their authority is derived. "God does not allow" us to do thus and thus should be a rarely expressed but often present thought to parents who study the nature of the divine authority where it is most fully revealed, that is, in the Gospels. They see there that authority works by principles and not by rules, and as they themselves are the deputy authorities set over every household, it becomes them to consider the divine method of government.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching the Branches

It is interesting to me, though not terribly surprising, that what she says here is so much like what Joseph Smith said:

I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.

It is not surprising that they should say similar things because both Joseph Smith and Charlotte Mason were seekers of Truth who knew that all Truth comes from one Source. He teaches that kind of person wherever He finds them, and His teachings are always consistent.

But what are principles? And what are these principles that we should be seeing in scripture to guide our parenting? It took me a long time to figure out how to see the principle, and it was martial arts that taught me what a principle is and how to find it.

It used to be, before we had kids, that my husband and I would go to seminars together, and our sensei, Kevin, would talk about not just looking at the current technique, but seeing deeper, finding the principle. That underlying thing, the fundamental truth about the body that would allow us to defend ourselves under a variety of attacks, and not just the particular one that we were studying that day in that class. Because every attack is different - but using the principles he was trying to communicate, you could defend yourself effectively from classes of attacks, rather than attempting to learn to counter each individual movement. We gradually became adept at finding that core, the guiding idea, that would allow us to do the various techniques successfully on a variety of body types and in a variety of conditions. This was very good for our growth as martial artists.

But when we started generalizing this idea of finding the underlying principle, and applied it to gospel topics, it revolutionized the way we look at scripture.

It changed everything because it taught us to find the why. Principles generally don't address a list either of things to do or to avoid; rather, they are the reason why we might do the things on those lists.

If you understand that a wrist lock produces a certain movement in the spine, then it's not at all a stretch to apply that same lock to the fingers, the elbow, the shoulder, or the neck, in order to produce the same overall effect on the body. That allows you to move from safe space to safe space as you neutralize the attacker's efforts to hurt you.

If you understand the purpose of tithing and the Sabbath, you don't need lengthy legalistic lists of how, precisely, you should observe those laws. If you understand that the family is central to God's plan for His children, then it's easy to figure out why marriage ought to come before sexual activity and childbearing, as well as the importance of cherishing our spouse and thus preserving the marriage. If you know that gender is a Divinely bestowed characteristic, then the distinct and complementary roles of men and women start to fall into their place in the scheme of things.

But how does that apply to parenting? To parental authority? My favorite example from the scriptures for how to parent is actually the Father's dealings with Adam and Eve in the Garden.

In the Garden, God gave Adam and Eve two rules: the first was to have children, and the second was to not eat the fruit of a particular tree. Our record doesn't say much about how much explanation they got on the first count, but He was clear about that second thing: 

...thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. 
-Genesis 2:17

Having warned them, He stepped back to give them space to choose. He allowed them to be tempted because there must actually be two options in order for choice to be meaningful -- and choice must be meaningful to produce growth. We know how the story goes: they chose poorly and ate from the Tree of Knowledge without permission. 

It is hugely instructive to see how He responds to His wayward children in the Garden. 

God (of course) does not freak out on them nor lose His cool. Although His children are behaving poorly, He maintains Himself and His own behavior. I think that this may be the element that is hardest for me to imitate; my kids know how to push my buttons, and it is sometimes hard to follow this part of the pattern of parenting He used in Eden. The good news is that, where He has given us weaknesses, He also promises to turn them to strengths if we turn to Him for help. 

The next part of our Father's response is to give Adam and Eve an opportunity to own their mistake: 

Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
-Genisis 3:11

Owning up to what we've done is a critical step in fixing the problem: you cannot progress through the repentance process while you are in denial that there's been an error. So the fact that Adam and Eve are quick to own their mistake is an important element, and I do not doubt that it made things go better than they would have, had they denied that there had been an infraction. (Cain, for example, has a much different experience.) Of course, our Father knew all along what had happened, but He still asked the questions: Where are you? Have you eaten the fruit? What have you been doing? These questions are not because God needed information, so they must be part of the process of teaching Adam and Eve. 

Then we finally come to the consequences that our first parents experienced as a result of their disobedience. God's consequences are instructive in nature, rather than punitive. It's not the case that they've hurt Him and He's getting back at them; these consequences are designed to help them grow and do better next time. Primarily, they are "cursed" with hard work, each in the field of their primary familial responsibilities: he to provide and protect his family, she to bear and nurture their children. As work is very good for us, the older I get the more this curse looks like a gift. It will assist them to develop the self-control and other virtues that were insufficiently strong in the Garden to keep them out of trouble.

As He informs them of the consequences they will be experiencing, the Father is not browbeating, He's not guilting them, and He's not haggling. He just tells them what's going on, then puts the changes into effect. And then they move on. 

There is so much in this episode that is instructive for how to exercise parental authority! Miss Mason talks about parents as being "deputy authorities" and to me, as I've tried to fill that role it's always seemed important that the kids can see that I'm not just making the rules up arbitrarily. Our family's rules generally fall into two categories: rules to keep us safe, and rules of right conduct which are based on the standards in scripture. And our kids know that we are bound by those rules of conduct as well: we don't allow them to lie or to be idle, but we don't do those things ourselves, either. They know early on that we are responsible to God for our conduct - and responsible to Him for the teaching we give them. 

But the thing I love the most about Miss Mason's comments here is the way that she encapsulates this truth:

Even the Divine authority does not compel.

If He does not employ compulsion, how much less right have we to do so!

14 May 2016

Psalm 8: Reverence in the Mouths of Babes

Psalm 8:2 reads:

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

The Lord himself quoted this verse following the cleansing of the temple. The cleansing of the temple is a story that I have read many times, and studied previously, but as happens so often when studying scripture, today I noticed more than I had in the past.

Today, I realized that the violent cleansing was only half of the story, and the second half is just as fascinating as the first. Once the temple was emptied of the marketplace, He began to use it for its intended purpose: as a place of healing and learning.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. 
-Matthew 21:14

I've been pondering reverence - real reverence, not just the stuff that's passed off as reverence: folding our arms and bowing our heads is not reverence. It's just a particular way to hold our body, and it has bothered me for a long time now that we pass this posture off as reverence. It also bothered me that I couldn't say what reverence is, only what it isn't. In the process of discussing some of the writings of the educator Charlotte Mason, the women on Ambleside Online helped me to put words both to what real reverence is -- and also to why it's important to discipline our bodies when we are trying to achieve reverence.

Reverence isn't a thing we do with our bodies; it's a thing we do with our hearts. It's an internal posture that we take when we approach Deity, an awareness of His Grandness, and admiration for His Majesty. It's a feeling that you come away with when you have touched the Divine, but it is not the form, the posture we shape our bodies into. It's not reverent to bow our heads and close our eyes. That's the form. What we're doing there is creating opportunity for substance. Reverence is the substance. It's the feeling, which is much harder to communicate to a room full of wiggly children. However. The while form is not reverence, form is important, too. Miss Mason said:

...it is just as true to say that the form gives birth to the feeling as that the feeling should give birth to the form.

The form - the way we hold our bodies while we approach God - is not trivial because it's a method of disciplining our bodies in preparation for actually communing with Him. And it's critical that we discipline ourselves because He speaks in a voice that is still and small. Which is to say that it's not always easy to hear. If we are bouncing around, distracted by our surroundings, then we are far more likely to miss His messages to us. Hence the bowed head and closed eyes - that cuts off a great deal of sensual input. Folding our arms disciplines much of our body to stillness, and reduces distraction from the things we might touch or be touched by. Kneeling is a submissive posture, and may be useful, though personally, I find that it puts my feet to sleep and quickly makes them tingle painfully, and becomes more of a distraction than a help, so I seldom do it: it doesn't help me reach the quiet place necessary to commune with God.

What Christ did with the cleansing of the temple was a lot like the forms we do for prayer: He reduced the distraction, and removed that which defiled the holy sanctuary. He created a space where, free of the distracting market atmosphere, people were ready to exercise faith, be healed, and be taught. That's the form, the outward parts. And when the people and the place were ready, He began to do His work. The people came to Him, He taught the crowds of people anxious to hear, and He healed them. That's the substance, the thing that impacts the inward parts. He made a space where they could commune. And they praised Him - shouted His praises, actually. Which (predictably) was irritating to the chief priests and scribes.

And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased. And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say?
-Matthew 21:15-16

This is the final week of the Savior's life; the die is cast and their decisions are made, but this is not their opportunity. This time, the Lord put them to silence with scripture: He referenced the 8th Psalm.

And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? 
-Matthew 21:16

I think it's likely that they would have recognized the reference, and know the second half, the part that the Lord didn't make explicit:

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
-Psalm 8:2

13 May 2016

Life Lessons From Yellow Paint

The kids need to play outside, and I wanted to practice with my yellow paints, and do some of the activities from April's Watercolor Challenge. It was lovely, and once I'd played with copying some of the yellow pictures from the book, I grabbed a dandelion and tried my hand at that, too.

The rain chased us in, but it was lovely while it lasted. And I have a couple of observations: 

1. Watercolors are a patient game. You build from pale to intense colors, and today I wanted to fling my paper across the yard because my dandelion looked like a pale yellow blob. And when I tried to add the next layer, even sitting in a breeze, it wasn't dry enough and turned to mush. But my painting wasn't broken; it just wasn't finished. Life is like that. Doesn't look like we planned. Isn't turning out. But it's not done, either.

2. Watercolors are pretty forgiving, particularly when the paint is still wet. I dabbed up the mushy mess. It took more of the base yellow than I wanted, so I added another layer of the lightest yellow. Which worked beautifully. It added layers and depth to my painting which I had not planned to put in. There's lots of life lessons here. Mushy messes are not the end of the world; dab it up and move forward. Forgiveness makes it like there was never a mistake in the first place. Grace is a gift we all need.

3. It's easy to use too much water. That makes things more difficult, and the whole process takes longer. Pretty sure there's a lesson about over doing, over thinking, over committing there, too. All those things are so easy to do, just like it's easy to get too much water in the paint. The only solution for my painting was to get rid of the excess. Sometimes, we just need less.

So I think it was a pretty successful painting exercise. And the more I learn about watercolors, the more impressed I am with my Great Grandma Stevens. She painted tons. And she did big ones; my biggest one so far has been about four inches square. She did so many that when they settled the estate every family member who wanted one got one. My dad has two, and they're not small. The one he calls "The Sheepwagon" is in their living room:

It's a long way from my experimental dandelion to doing something as nice as Grandma Stevens' sheepwagon painting. But she would have been a beginner once, too. I just need practice. Learning to paint has a lot to recommend it, but one nice thing is the way it lets me connect with her. I like that.

06 May 2016

Commonplace Sampler: April

"A child cannot have a lasting sense of duty until he is brought into contact with a supreme Authority, Who is the source of law, and the pleasing of Whom converts duty into joy."
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches, Parents' Review vol. 8, no. 9

There are a number of ideas that have helped me a bit. First is the proper way of thinking about objectivity. It isn’t a reference to that cold disinterestedness that is so highly valued in scientists, newspaper reporters, and others who are expected to act as if they had no soul. It is, instead, the sense of there being a created order that preexists me  — even preexists the world. My personal feelings or responses to Truth, Goodness, or Beauty have no bearing on their reality.
Another is the idea that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are a trinity — they go together. As a Christian, it is fairly easy for me to say that Truth is objective. {Please note that this doesn’t mean that I think I can even come close to understanding it perfectly — I’m only saying here that it exists objectively.} Likewise, it is pretty easy for me to accept that Goodness is objective — that it is the character of God, who is Good, that defines what Goodness is.
But somehow, even though I know that God is Beautiful, it has been very hard for me to grasp exactly why that makes Beauty objective. Maybe I consumed a few too many of those teen magazines that made statements about beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Is the ubiquity of that statement not evidence enough that as a culture we have swallowed whole a subjective, personal standard for beauty?
Tying Beauty back up into its trinity, rather than isolating it, has helped quite a bit.
-Brandy Vincel, Afterthoughts Blog, That's Your Opinion: The Loss of Objectivity

A NOISELESS, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
-Walt Whitman, "A Noiseless Patient Spider"

Diagnosis in its most basic definition is the process of determining the nature of a condition by analyzing the circumstances and symptoms that are presented. Through examination, analysis of symptoms or symptomatology, and the history defined by the patient, amongst other tools, practitioners attempt to decipher what is the condition at hand in order to prescribe a treatment. The recognition of unhealthy tissue, fatigue, pain, skin coloration, amongst many other symptoms, are indications that give a practitioner a reference leading to the particular classification or identity of the illness they are attempting to diagnose.
The medicinal concepts and philosophies held by each practitioner, M.D., or healer are directly related to both the diagnostic tools used and the treatment given, particularly because the classifications of disease as well as the treatments associated with it are particular to each medicinal school and practice.
-Traditional Medicines of the World: Diagnostic Tools Part 1, The Herbarium

We are tempted to look upon Christianity as a scheme of salvation designed and carried out for our benefit, whereas the very essence of Christianity is passionate devotion to an altogether adorable Person.
-Charlotte Mason, Teaching in the Branches, Parents' Review vol. 8, no. 9

05 May 2016

Mammals and Birds and Reptiles, Oh My!

Nature Study this morning was probably our most exciting to date! We saw the most new types of animals that we've ever had in a single trip.

Things started off with a bang when we saw a Fox Snake crossing the path right as we came into the park. Turns out there's a whole mess of them that hibernate in the siding of the nature center. The gentleman we spoke to said that he has personally removed four or five from the building, and some of the other staff have also removed snakes -- and that's down from previous years, because they closed some entrances. 

It was really interesting watching him cross the road. He moved very differently on the asphalt trail, versus when he got into the brush. You can see how he's got the deep side-to-side action going on, and is the classic "S" shape snake here, but as soon as he got into the grass he straightened out a lot, and moved much more directly -- and faster. It was remarkable how well he blended in, even when moving. We sat down and put him in our nature journals quick, before our friends came. Hero has been working with the book Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain, as well as practicing drawing weapons and armor all over, and he is improving nicely. 

When our friends came, the first thing that happened is that the kids went under the tower where we usually meet - and then came running back, shouting about the critter they saw. We eventually decided it was a woodchuck moving its babies, but we didn't manage to get a picture. We also didn't get a picture of the second snake (probably a garter snake) that the kids saw. Or the critter that almost looked like a chipmunk. But I did finish my sketch of a Red Pine pinecone that I started last week. 

We also checked on the Prarie Smoke flower that one of the girls found last week. I'd like to paint that sometime, but today I just had a look. It's a cool looking flower. I was a little surprised that it hadn't progressed any further toward blooming. 

Next, we walked down toward the "Stick Shack". It's an odd little awning out in the woods - just a bit of roof on some poles, maybe 6 feet tall. Last week, that area was exciting because we found half a dozen little frogs in the puddle that has collected there. This week, we didn't stay real long: somebody built her nest right by where the kids usually play. I snuck a picture, then we took off so the poor Mama Bird could come back. We didn't see her, so we don't know what kind of nest it is. 

I was just tall enough to reach my phone over the nest for a picture, so we could spy without disturbing anything. The kids are hoping there will be a baby to spy on next week!

As if that wasn't enough, when we wandered back over toward our pond today, we saw a new bird! Took some doing to figure him out, but we ended up deciding that our new friend is a Tree Swallow. I was wishing I had brought my big camera, instead of just relying on my phone, because the little guy just sat and sat for us, preening, while my friend and I both worked to try to figure him out. 

It was a lovely day. Spring is definitely sprung! Can't wait to go back next week!


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