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28 March 2017

#PrinceOfPeace: Gratitude

And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.
-Doctrine and Covenants 46:32

It had somehow escaped my attention that gratitude is a commandment. I knew that it's an important virtue. I knew that we could offend God with a lack of gratitude. But I'd never really pondered it as a commandment. But it's not a vindictive, self-aggrandizing kind of commandment. 

"I worked hard to provide them, so you'll eat your beets, and you'll be grateful. Or else!"

It isn't like that; that kind of attitude behind the commandment would be inconsistent with the nature of God: God's love is so perfect that the scriptures tell us God is love, and we also read that love is not overly concerned with itself -- a loving God (or a loving person) seeketh not their own.

The commandments, being given from a place of love, are actually for our benefit -- much the same way that the rules that I impose on my kids (eat your vegetables, don't run in the street, you must learn to read) are designed to keep my kids happy and safe. God being our Father, His rules are like that, too: designed to keep us happy and safe. That's why Nephi, after he arranged for his people to be taught God's laws, described their lifestyle as living after the manner of happiness. Including the commandment to be grateful.

If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues. Someone has said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
-President Thomas S. Monson (quoting Cicero), The Divine Gift of Gratitude

Gratitude then, if it really is the key to all the other virtues, is the small and simple thing, the tiny hinge on which our lives can turn, as we seek to obey the injunction to be like Christ.

I think that gratitude to Christ, Himself, is particularly important in our quest to be all He says we can be. A while back, I heard a story that illustrates how gratitude can be the key, not only to the development of our character, but to the ability to find joy in the dark places. The story comes out of the deep darkness of the Nazi concentration camps:

There is a book that I have always remembered since I first read it many years ago. I feel it illustrates the scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which reads, “In every thing give thanks.” Many of you may be acquainted with Corrie ten Boom’s book entitled The Hiding Place. It is the true story of two Dutch women who were imprisoned during World War II for harboring Jewish refugees. Its message bears reminding.

Corrie and Betsie ten Boom lived by the precepts of Christ and found great comfort in reading the Bible. Their prison barracks were dimly lit, dirty, foul smelling, crowded, and constantly patrolled by guards. Corrie was put into a cell with her sister, which was a blessing for them both. Her constant worry was that the guards would see their Bible and take it away, since it was a great source of hope and comfort to them.

The place was so infested with fleas that the sisters could not move without instantly being covered with the bugs. They were very familiar with scriptures concerning gratitude and thankfulness in the Bible. Betsie told Corrie that they should thank God for the fleas. Corrie wasn’t sure she could do this, but she and Betsie bowed their heads and thanked God even for the fleas.

Weeks later Corrie was struck by the blessing that came from her obedience to thank God in all circumstances. Betsie had heard a supervisor say she wouldn’t step through the door of their cell because of all the fleas, and neither would the guards. It was because of the fleas that they were able to continue to keep their Bible without the guards finding it. They were also able to hold worship meetings and share Christ’s message with other prisoners. God asks us to give thanks even when there may seem to be little for which to be thankful. 
-Sharon G. Samuelson, Gratitude -- A Commandment of God

This example, their gratitude for even fleas, and the eyes that it gave them to see the hand of the Lord in their lives, even in those terribly trying circumstances, has been a lesson that stayed with me. And when I remember to give thanks for my own "fleas" - whatever the current trial is - I find that the situation feels less overwhelming. I am more calm when I use gratitude to bolster my trust and faith in the Lord. I am less susceptible to discouragement and depression and fear. Looking for the bright side, the silver lining (no matter how small), and then remembering to give thanks for it, helps me to keep my balance when the load is heavy, the days are long, and there's no end to the trial in sight.

And that is something to be grateful for.

27 March 2017

#PrinceOfPeace: Repentence

It's a mark of His love for us that the Savoir commands us to repent. He wants to forgive us. He wants us. And so He commands us to repent. Knowing that the process is difficult, that sometimes it is all we can do, He promises to be with us every step of the way:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
-2 Peter 3:9

"Big" sins or "small" sins - the effect of any sin is ultimately the same: separation from God. But He loves us, and He doesn't want that to happen for us, and so He extends us Grace. He commands us:

Therefore repent ye, repent ye, lest by knowing these things and not doing them ye shall suffer yourselves to come under condemnation, and ye are brought down unto this second death.
-Helaman 14:19

He wants us, even when it's hard to give up our sins. Even when we stumble. Even when we stumble more than once. His Grace is sufficient; keep trying.

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could...
-Brad Wilcox, His Grace is Sufficient, emphasis added

26 March 2017

#PrinceOfPeace: Forgiveness

Christ requires us to forgive because He loves us and wants us to heal. #PrinceOfPeace

Not too long ago, I read Hawthorn's book, The Scarlet Letter. Set in the 17th century Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay, it's the story of Hester Prynne, a woman caught in adultery, condemned to forever wear a large, scarlet A on her dress in penance. Shunned by society, both for her sin and for her refusal to name her child's father, Hester's trials and her struggles to raise her daughter work together to make her beautiful and gentle. Her husband, presumed lost at sea, returns to discover her shame and secretly take his revenge on her lover. The story shows the dignity of repentance -- and it shows the poisonous effect of withholding forgiveness. Near the end of the book she urges her husband to accept the heavenly healing in forgiving his enemy:

Forgive, and leave his further retribution to the Power that claims it! ... There might be good for thee, and thee alone, since thou hast been deeply wronged and hast it at thy will to pardon. Wilt thou give up that only privilege? Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?
-The Scarlett Letter (emphasis added)

It took me a long time to understand why forgiveness is so essential for the person who has been wronged. That always struck me as backwards, like the one who has done wrong was getting away with something, particularly if they are still unrepentant when they are forgiven. I had it all wrong: forgiveness is at least as much for the person that's been injured, as it is for the one who made the mistake.

When I was in Seminary, we would have these monthly "Super Saturday" activities with other teens from all over the stake, where we would get together and have a lesson in the morning, then do an activity or a service project in the afternoon. I generally enjoyed Seminary, even though it was pretty early in the morning, and these Super Saturdays were some of the best activities they planned for us. As part of the seminary course, we were asked to read the scriptures every day, which I did, only missing a few days in the whole four years' time I attended.

In one of these Super Saturday lessons, the teacher asked those students who had not read every single day to please stand. She then proceeded to tell us how terrible it was, how unfaithful, and lacking in testimony we were, because we had not done our reading the way we were supposed to. I'm sure she meant well, but it was not her best moment. And I found it particularly humiliating, because I worked hard to read every day, but there had been a day just that past week where I'd woken up and thought, "Oh. I forgot to read yesterday." And my streak was over and gone, and by the time I realized it, it was too late to do anything about it. And so, because I had a moment of forgetfulness, this teacher was including me in her ill-advised public shaming of those kids who were struggling. I was completely humiliated, and I was angry.

I left the class.

We lived in a semi-rural area of Wisconsin, and there were not a lot of members around, so our Stake was large, and these activities were planned first in this town, then in another, so you could end up driving two to three hours to get there, but it happened that that month, the activity was in my hometown, and the church was only a mile or two from my home.

I left that class hurt and angry and humiliated, and the first thing I saw when I got out into the hallway was the building's exit. It was a beautiful day, and it was not a long walk home.

I very seriously considered walking out. Walking out of the class, and of the building... and of the Church. It would have been so easy. Push open the glass door and walk out into the sunshine, and away from the whole thing.

Instead I fled down the hall to the library, which was about as far away from the class as it was possible to be and still be in the building. I cried, and my friend's dad heard me and came to see what was wrong. When I told him what had happened, he gave me a hug, and then he offered me a priesthood blessing. In that blessing, the Lord instructed me that I needed to learn to say in my heart, "Let God judge between me and thee." And I should let Him handle it.

I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
-Doctrine and Covenants 64:10

It took me a long time to understand that, had I left that day the person who would have suffered most was me. Christ's counsel against anger isn't an unobtainable, unreasonable expectation: it's a tender mercy, designed first and foremost for our own protection. Had I left, I would have been cutting myself off from the ordinances of the gospel, from teaching and learning about Christ in the community of saints that make up the body of the church. It wasn't going to bother her if I left - I never knew if she even realized there had been an incident. I believe that she had the best of intentions, in spite of her poor execution that day. But leaving would have had a huge impact on me, and none of it good.

Forgiveness was key, and letting Christ handle it.

I am grateful that I don't have to figure out all the consequences, all the penalties, I don't have to somehow determine what is just, and what ought to happen, and when mercy should be applied: I'm not wise enough to always figure that stuff out in my own home, among my children -- and that is, literally, just kid stuff! In His compassion, Christ bears that burden, and all we need to find peace is to let Him be the judge; our part is to forgive and be healed.

"Wilt thou reject that priceless benefit?" That's what Hester Prynne asked her husband -- and when he did reject it, it killed him. The anger, the revenge, the bitterness, they consumed him and he died of it. But we need not suffer that fate: Christ is able to save us from it.

My experience is that we can sometimes forget that the Atonement has two sides. Usually, when we think about the Atonement we focus on how mercy can satisfy the demands that justice would impose upon us. We are typically quicker to accept the idea that when we sin and make mistakes the Atonement is available to pay our debts. Forgiveness requires us to consider the other side of the Atonement—a side that we don’t think about as often but that is equally critical. That side is the Atonement’s power to satisfy our demands of justice against others, to fulfill our rights to restitution and being made whole. We often don’t quite see how the Atonement satisfies our own demands for justice. Yet it does so. It heals us not only from the guilt we suffer when we sin, but it also heals us from the sins and hurts of others.
-James R. Rasband, Faith to Forgive Grievous Harms (emphasis added)

25 March 2017

#PrinceOfPeace: Compassion

The parable goes like this: the man was traveling from Jerusalem, and the thieves got him. They took everything, and left him for dead. A priesthood leader and a temple worker each passed by, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid the messy situation. Then a non-member happened by, but he helped the man, took him to get medical care, and paid all the bills -- including any future expenses.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor to him that fell among thieves? 
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
-Luke 10:36-37

Telling the parable about a guy beaten and left for dead, pushing things to an extreme, illustrates the principle very clearly. But in our lives, typically the situation is not so obvious, the story not so ironic as it was in the Savior's parable: mostly, our opportunities to show compassion are really very ordinary, and I think that sometimes we don't even realize it when we do it. That's just... what you do.

It was in reading a midwifery text book when I was pregnant with my third (I love birth, and had already read the usual "over the counter" books, so I'd found something "prescription strength"), that I realized how, in the Church, we often do compassionate things as a matter of course, and we don't recognize the value of what is being done. I read how student midwives are advised that new mothers need a number of things to have a well-developed support system: contact with women who have recently given birth and other experienced mothers, who will coo over her baby and share the wisdom they have gained when she needs it, as well as assistance with meals and possibly other day-to-day chores in that first time after the baby is born. In fact, after reading this section of the book my thought was, "Oh! What all new moms need is a Relief Society!" Nearly every item on the list was something that is routinely checked on by the Relief Society.

The Savior has asked us to do the things which He has done, to bear one another’s burdens, to comfort those who need comfort, to mourn with those who mourn, to feed the hungry, visit the sick, to succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.”
-Barbara Thompson, And of Some Have Compassion

These small things, little kindnesses we do for our friends and acquaintances and the strangers around us, are acts of compassion. Many of us do compassionate, merciful things, often without even realizing it, simply because it's "the right thing to do". All of us, I have no doubt, could learn to do still better at following the Savior in this way: everything the Savior does is focused on One. One hurting heart, one need filled, one pain eased. There is so much hurt in the world, it can sometimes feel impossible and overwhelming, but we don't have to fix it all. We just follow His example and do what we can for one person at a time. The Savior loves us one by one. He heals us individually, one by one. And he sends us to be His assistants, one by one, to one person at a time.

Compassion and mercy are twins - not identical, but so close that they can sometimes be tough to tell apart. Mercy is "the compassionate treatment of a person, greater than what is deserved, and it is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. ... Every blessing we receive is an act of mercy, more than we could ever merit on our own. (source)" Christ's specialty is mercy, fueled by His perfect compassion, born in His perfect love. And He delights in teaching us to feel that same depth of compassion, to act in that same merciful way: to become like Him.

There is one who understands, who sympathizes. He was misunderstood, rejected, knew supreme loneliness, was poor and had not a place to lay his head, suffered anguish and conflict of mind.
He understands.
He can give pardon and bring peace.
The specialty of the Savior is mercy.
And he requires that we be specialists in mercy.
Marion D. Hanks, My Specialty is Mercy, emphasis original

24 March 2017

#PrinceOfPeace: Faith

Part of me is amazed that faith -which by definition is not yet knowing and not yet seeing- can be as powerful as it is. But it is. Faith gives us hope, and hope is the anchor that allows us to weather the storms that life throws at us. I love the image of hope as an anchor, rather than as the flimsy butterfly that it's so often depicted as: hope has substance. Faith has power.

In this, as in all else, Christ is our example, having started as a tiny baby, and then in process of time increasing in wisdom and stature,  as He "received not of the fullness at first, but received grace for grace (D&C 93:12)." We can be like Him: we can grow, taking strength from one experience to assist us in the next challenge, each one teaching us, helping us to trust Him more.

He tells us:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meant in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.
-Malachi 3:10-12

My parents taught me the importance of tithing when I was a kid. It became an automatic thing, just what you do, and I seldom think about it anymore, other than when I realize that I'm seeing the blessings -- and I do. The blessings are real. Cupboards too full to hold it all, even when we feel that times are lean. Shoes and cars and clothes and appliances that last and last, well beyond their usual life span. Boxes of hand-me-downs have shown up providentially, just when we needed them, with more in them than we could use. If you are looking, the blessings of tithing are huge, and exactly what the scripture says. They show up quietly, unannounced. This time they come this way, another time they take another form. Easy to overlook if you aren't paying attention. I'm so glad that my parents taught me to pay my tithing.

I've come to understand that the faith necessary to pay tithing  is the same faith needed to trust God on any point. To trust that, though I do not see, He does. Though I do not understand yet, He does -- and He will teach me, if I'll just trust until the time is right. Though I can't see the path, He not only knows it, but He has prepared it for me, with just what I really need, even if that's not always what I think I need, or what I want. Christ teaches us to live in a way that brings us happiness and real joy; faith in Him is where it all begins. Tithing becomes the training wheels for our faith; it helps us to catch our balance, and helps us to grow toward the time when:

... we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children... But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.
-Ephesians 4:13-15

Faith then becomes the foundation of all righteousness, because it's the thing that moves us to action. Action is a critical component of faith; it's what allows faith to grow: we make the experiment on the Word, and because God is faithful, the sincere experiment can only result in proving Him -- which strengthens our faith.

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward tot he fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
-Alma 32:41-42

21 March 2017

Bessie's Pillow {Crew Review}

Bessie's PillowBessie's Pillow, written by Linda Bress Silbert, is a historical novel, based on the true story of the author's grandmother and her immigration from Lithuania's Jewish ghetto to escape persecution, which we were given to reveiw. After reading the excerpt on the publisher, Strong Learning, Inc., website, I was hooked, and when it arrived (finally!) I sat down and started it.

By the end of the day, I'd read half the book.

If I hadn't been trying to get over the flu, I would have been seriously tempted to stay up late and finish it. Instead, I finished the story before noon the next day. It was a beautiful story and a page-turner. I added this excerpt to my commonplace book, from an exchange Bessie has with her father early in the book:

"No, Tateh, I am afraid," I say, and begin to cry.
"Boshka," he replies, "There will come many times in your life when you are afraid. In these moments, you must surrender your fear and go wherever [the moment] takes you, and trust that you have the strength to do what you must to survive." 
-Bessie's Pillow, p36

I think this piece of timeless wisdom, all the more poignant for having come from a rabbi in a ghetto who, knowing he will never see her again, sends his daughter away to safety, encapsulates the message of the book. The story is the story of how she lives this counsel, over and over and over again throughout her life.

Once I had read the book myself, I knew that it wasn't suitable for a family read-aloud, which is what I had first planned for it: my younger two are not ready for all of the challenges Bessie faces. Bessie is fortunate to be able to travel first class, and to have well-off friends and family to assist her when she arrives in America as a refugee. But she comes from the Jewish ghetto, where the pogroms -mobs that attacked the Jews- go on violent rampages with torches and weapons, where parents try to protect their daughters from rape at the hands of the pogroms, and  and where the Russians conscript Jews and send them, poorly clothed and often unarmed, to the front lines of the war. Most of the Jewish conscripts do not come home. It's a harsh life, and the author does her readers the favor of showing the reality of it. At one point after coming to America Bessie takes a job for a few days in a sweatshop sewing factory, where she is locked in with all the rest of the women who are sewing, and treated very poorly, before she is unjustly fired. Bessie also sees the harsh realities of tenement living. And the author remains faithful to her family history when scarlet fever takes the two of Bessie's children, only a day apart. All this is done tastefully, and it's particularly good and timely to have this kind of story when there are so many refugees in the world right now, and immigration is such a hot topic. It's good to have stories of why people become refugees and immigrants, even if it's only part of the book. But I think it's a little much for Dragon(6) and Peanut(4). However, Hero(10) is old enough and mature enough to begin to see the hard realities of the world, and this book did nicely as his next lesson on that point, both in the lessons of seeing the things that Bessie saw, and also in terms of Bessie's own reaction to these things, which was uniformly compassionate and caring. She really was a remarkable woman.

At that point, having read it myself, it was time to give it to my son. I talked to him after he'd started it, to make sure that he understood why it was worth it to Bessie's family to send her away like they did: he hadn't. Although he knows something about our Church's history, and the mobs that our people faced even here in America, I don't think that it's terribly real to him yet, and he didn't understand this either. So we had a conversation about that. And he kept going back to the story. I'd asked him to read the first three chapters (they're short; that was about 15 pages), and he just kept going: he was hooked. It didn't take him a lot longer to read it than what it took me. I know that he kept thinking about it, though, because a week or two after he'd finished the book, he was sweeping the kitchen and commented on a part of the story where Bessie chases someone with a broom. I like a book that keeps us thinking, even after it's done. That's one of the marks of good literature.

Because we got sick (and that was so fun we did it again), we didn't really dig into the extras that the author has collected on her site, as we've spent a lot of this winter just trying to keep our heads above water on the basics while we caught Every Cold Invented. But there are some really fun-looking resources on there: radio shows, dance steps, recipes, all kinds of things to help you place Bessie in her historical context in a more visceral way. There are also other resources for looking through Ellis Island immigration records, and information about the ships that Bessie and her brothers traveled on, the Hamburg-American line, including fun things like diagrams of the ships and menus for what they ate on board. I think that, if you get a chance to read other reviews (click the banner below for a list of all the Review Crew members who are reviewing this book), that some members of the Review Crew even found that they had ancestors who came through Ellis Island!

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20 March 2017

Creating a Masterpiece {Crew Review}

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.
Hero(10) with his straw.
A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.
Dragon(6) painting a sunset.
"Sweet! I love art!" Everybody was jumping up and down, they were so excited, when I told them that we get to review Creating a Masterpiece. We were given the Monthly Plan, so we had full access to the site. We already had watercolor paints and paper, so the first project we tried was the "African Sunset" project. It was perfect timing: we had the stomach flu go through our house right about this time, and this was a great way to keep some of the healthier kids off the screens for a while. We've done a number of things using watercolors; I spent last year studying mixing colors and the kids often painted with me, and frequently paint independently as well. However, this project used several techniques we had never tried before: wet on wet painting and using a straw. The straw, in particular,  was a hit. There were some challenges in doing this project, but it turned out well.

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.
Hero's final African Sunset.

I always encourage my kids, when they're learning to do art, to take what they learn, and then to start to use those techniques to make their own vision take shape. In this way, we move away from just crafts (sometimes called "pea and stick work" in Charlotte Mason circles), and towards a more authentic artistic creation, balancing the acquisition of skill with individual creativity. These lessons work nicely with that philosophy, and Hero especially, once he finished the projects, was comfortable expanding away from the lesson and into his own creations.

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.
An original charcoal drawing by Hero,
done right after he did a charcoal lesson.

One of the cool things about these lessons is that there is a great selection of mediums to play with. We started with the watercolors because I already love those, and I wanted to. But then I went and got some new toys for us to play with: soft pastels and charcoals. We did a soft pastel project as a family, which took the younger kids several sittings.

"I'm really enjoying the results of my first two pastel projects, and the second one was just improvised!" 

The interface is simple and easy to use - there's an instructional video, with a supply list and some printed tips below that. Longer projects are broken up into several videos, which is nice if you end up doing the piece over a couple of sittings, as we often did. The breaks make it easier to come back to your place, but they autoplay as you go through them, so if you want to watch them all at once, it's very easy to do so.

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.

The course description says that the classes are good for children of all ages, but I found that my younger kids were easily frustrated and confused by the lessons. Part of that is that we watched the video in by the computer, but then had to go to the kitchen table to do the art. Hero(10) did just fine with that. He did more projects than the rest of the kids, because he was able to do these lessons completely independently from start to finish: I just needed to log him in. 

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.
Hero's first work in charcoal, done completely independently.

However, it was really challenging for Dragon(6) and Peanut(4). Even when I did the projects with them, and we would watch a single step, pause the video and do it all of us at once, then go back and watch the next step. The younger kids found it really challenging, and frustrating when it didn't turn out like the model, particularly in the first couple projects. In the end, Dragon was persuaded to be happy with his picture -- which I think is adorable.

Pastel projects from our classical homeschool, working with tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece.
Dragon's pastel landscape

Pastel projects from our classical homeschool, working with tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece.
Peanut's pastel landscape.
Peanut(4), on the other hand, was really frustrated, especially on the first project. It just was too much for her to do quite yet, and she was frustrated with the outcome. Maybe some very precocious kids could do well younger than about six, but I think a lot of them are going to be better off to wait until they have matured a little more. So much of doing art is about seeing things well, and so if your young child is, like Peanut, still unable to find their shoe when it's sitting alone in the middle of the floor, then they're probably going to struggle with art. Still, even with the struggle, I feel like she benefited. Later, she did another drawing on her own while Hero was working on a pastel project, which turned out cute. If nothing else, she has the experience working with the medium, as well as a little more practice at seeing well. Because she'd ended close to tears, I was surprised and pleased when she chose to do an independent picture of her own while Hero was playing with the pastels. And, the next time we were working on art as a group, she chose to participate and did was much more comfortable with things not looking exactly like the sample project. For one thing, purple is THE color, and her windmill clearly needed more of it. The work was still beyond her fine motor and visual skills -- but she was much more comfortable with the differences between her work and everyone else's, and I felt like that was an important gain from the lessons.

It's still a work in progress, but here is our current project, it's going to be windmills, at the end of the first of three sections of instructions. Although we are not finished yet, I can see clear progress from all of my children, both in their command of the pastel medium, which we had never done before these lessons, and also in their ability to follow directions, to mix colors -this project was particularly challenging because our set of pastels does not have all the colors called for in the project, so we've been mixing to achieve the "rust" color that is needed. Each of the kids dealt with this challenge slightly differently - and successfully depicted the roundness of the tower. I love the lessons they are learning in this project.

A review of the Creating a Masterpiece online art instruction curriculum, done with the Homeschool Review Crew.
Top: Dragon(6), Hero(10)
Mom and Peanut(4)

Overall, I feel like these lessons were a pretty good fit for us. The projects are great introductory projects to a variety of mediums, which is perfect, because I was too busy taking music classes in school, and didn't have time for much in the way of art, due to the limitations on the number of elective classes we were allowed. Creating a Masterpiece has been a very accessible way for us to explore beyond the limited set of mediums that I was already familiar with -- and we could continue to explore considerably farther: there is a great variety of projects, including acrylic and oil painting, wood burning, copper tooling, glass mosaic, and quite a few others. We chose three mediums that fit our budget, which is not huge right now, and within those categories there were quite a few projects for the kids to choose from. I think that you could easily do a whole year or maybe more of art classes with this curriculum, and have a great time trying out a whole bunch of new things. 

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15 March 2017

Odd Bits: Folk music, Archaeology, and More...


One of the things that homeschooling has done for me is to introduce me to some lovely folk music. I'd like to learn to play it on the Banjo, a lot of it, but so far, that's an item on my to-do list that isn't so easy to get crossed off. In the mean time, I'm absolutely loving listening to Jesse Ferguson, who sings Scottish folk songs. Have a listen; he's lovely. I always wonder if my Scottish ancestors knew or loved any of these songs.


On the first of every month, I post a collection of thoughts from my commonplace book, which is one of my favorite self-education tools. I love that using it is participating in the great English and American tradition of self-education, and continuing personal development. Occasionally, I'm asked what it is. The article I've taken this quote from has a pretty good explanation, some pictures, and instructions for how to start one.

A commonplace book is essentially a scrapbook / compilation of information that the creator deems relevant. Commonplace books became popular with thinkers in 15th century England and were eventually promoted as a scholarly tool by major universities such as Yale and Harvard.
-Jamie, Project: Start a Commonplace Book


I stopped buying cereal a couple years ago, and breakfast, which the kids mostly take care of on their own, continues to be a little hap-hazard. Lots of times, the kids will eat leftovers, or open a can of fruit. But if we're low on those things, it can get interesting. I think I might try this idea out: homemade instant oatmeal. Looks like a piece of cake to make, which is perfect: I love that the kids are gaining independence and confidence in the kitchen by making their own breakfasts. She's got instructions on masking tape on her jars, which is brilliant. And it looks like it'd be easy to switch up the flavors, too.


Archeology is cool. Archeology that shows up just in time to dovetail with our work on Greece and Greek civilization is even better. And that's what this article about a warrior's grave they found in Greece is. And there's a Roman makeup case, with fingerprints visible in the cream that's still in it. Gotta love the never-ending search for the perfect beauty product! And there's the whole kingdom from Arthurian legend that they found. That's pretty awesome, too. Makes me want to go read something about King Arthur: it's been a while. Archeology is good stuff.


Marginalia. I only recently learned that there's a word for all the stuff that you write in the margins. They told us not to write in our books in school, cautioned that there would be Serious Consequences if we did, because Those Books Are Very Expensive. The caution stuck: I have never really been one to write or highlight in my books, and when I shop, I generally want a clean book, even used. The only book that I've seriously annotated is my scriptures, which I love "making tracks" through, because it helps me to remember what I've learned, find it later, and retain it longer. And it's a visual reference for which sections I've given serious attention to, and which ones still need that kind of treatment. But I think I'm going to start making more notes in other books, too:

I like to think of these little jottings as being little messages to Jemimah from those same ancestral tombs, that through them she will get to know these people from her history a little better.  She will know how they thought about things, and how they interpreted knowledge, and she will get their input into the very same words that she is reading.  When she reads How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, she will know to listen for how "the light, rollicking metre almost produces the effect of the hoof beats of the galloping horse" because her Great Grandmother will have told her to listen.
-Jeanne, A Peaceful Day: Marginalia

I love the idea that the notes that their family made in their books has become a connection between the generations, a way for departed loved ones to continue to teach long after they've left us. That's a beautiful, all by itself. It makes me wonder (again) whatever happened to my Grandmother's library, and if she made notes in any of her books. What would they tell me about her? Those little notes can have impact, especially if the reader is receptive, or has a connection to the note-taker:

As I read Rebecca’s copy of the book, I started to notice how her notes changed the way I was reading. The passages she chose to mark, and the notes she wrote at the end of chapters, framed the way I was reading the novel. ... I’ve read books in the past with marginalia – usually used books that had previous owners unknown to me – and while those notes also pointed out passages to me that I otherwise may have skimmed over or which may not have been necessarily significant to me upon first glance, I never really paid attention to it beyond those pauses. ... This experience – of reading Rebecca’s copy of The Engagements – was markedly different, though. Because we’re not just Book Riot colleagues, but also good friends, not only was my perception of the novel changed, my perception of Rebecca – as a friend, as a woman, as a reader – was also changed.
-Rachel Manwil, To Note or Not to Note: How Marginalia Changed the Way I Read


I ran across this interesting post about the difference between an educational system and an educational method. She's talking about how the Charlotte Mason philosophy is a method, not a system, and there are a lot of good insights about the reason the distinction is important, but the thing that struck me was the way that this applies to language learning. Around 2 or 3 years ago, I changed, dramatically, the way that I learn languages, and started studying sentences, harvested from either my dictionary's sample sentences, or from real native Japanese text and native speakers. I make flashcards from whole sentences, and study vocabulary, syntax, usage, and all that all in a single go. If that's all I did, it would still just be a system, but the other half of the idea was to create an immersive environment - a Japanese bubble - so that we also are hearing correct pronunciation, more correct grammar and syntax, and interacting with the languages in ways that are natural, organic, and fun. Fun, guilty pleasure (example: Minecraft videos) is actually desirable in this case. The combination is amazing. Families who successfully pass a heritage language generally do a couple of things, but one of the big ones is to arrange for roughly a third of the day to happen in the minority language: and that is surprisingly doable in a situation like ours where we are all learning together. Obviously, it would be faster and better if we had more live feedback, regular access to someone who knows more than me, but we are making good progress even with minimal contact with people who are fluent, which is pretty amazing.

Getting good is good. Those things are all good. It’s nice to be full and it’s nice to have a big vocabulary. It’s just that you’re more likely to eat more if you focus more or less totally on making and procuring tasty food than “efficient”, “filling” food. Similarly, if you focus just about exclusively on having fun through the language, while you still suck, while you’re not full yet, you’ll naturally “eat” more of it, and eat more often, and naturally get “fuller” faster.
-Khatzmuto, Why Don't You Learn Like You Eat?, emphasis original (content warning: this article is clean, but if you browse his site, be aware he's sometimes rude, and occasionally pretty crude)

Into The Wild 8: Wetlands in Wisconsin

Materials for the Webelos Into the Wild pin, requirement 8, focusing on Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Materials for the Webelos Into the Wild pin, requirement 8: Learn about aquatic ecosystems and wetlands in your area. Talk with your Webelos den leader or family about the important role aquatic ecosystems and wetlands play in supporting life cycles of wildlife and humans, and list three ways you can help.

Learn about aquatic ecosystems and wetlands in your area: 

Watch a quick introduction to wetlands through the year:

Read about what wetlands are with Wetlands 101 from the Wisconsin Wetlands Association.
Look to see which wetlands are close to where you live.

Learn about the important role of wetlands in supporting wildlife and humans: 

List three ways you can help the wetlands:
Learn about ways you can help preserve wetlands.

Additional resources for Into the Wild, requirements 1 and 6 are here.

13 March 2017

I'd Rather Be Your Mommy {Crew Review}

I'd Rather be Your Mommy Book

I love it when we get to review books. Those are becoming some of my favorite things to review so far. I'd Rather Be Your Mommy is an adorable picture book with soft, impressionistic illustrations, recently put out by Home School Adventure Co.

There are so many voices that say that a woman's time is best spent doing something, anything, outside the home, away from her children. I love that this story softly and gently teaches the importance of being the Mom, being present, and the joy that is available in child-rearing.

“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens ...prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.” 
 -Neil A. Maxwell

I decided to read the story to each of my kids, and caught the Peanut(4) first. We were given the digital book (there is a print version, too), and I do not love the digital format: I am a paper books girl. It's just not as snuggly to sit in front of a screen. But my girl, in her "fluffy princess dress" didn't mind. She sat on my lap, and when the story was done, she wanted to do it again right away. So we did. There is plenty in the lovely pictures to talk about. It was a good snuggle.

The next one I caught was Dragon(6). He'd seen me reading to Peanut, and wanted some of the same -- even on the computer chair, rather than the couch. We had a good time. Lots of tickles and kiss-attacks. Lots of giggles. It was while we were finishing up that I noticed that a portion of the sales of the book goes to Show Hope, which is a charitable organization that helps orphans find families, receive needed medical care while they wait, and they provide services to help with overcoming the effects of abuse, trauma, neglect, and early attachment injuries once the kids are placed with their families. That's pretty cool.

Hero is a big guy now: 10 years old and very nearly as tall as me. He made noise about squishing my lap flat as a pancake, but I told him I'd recover. I could tell that he was a little ambivalent about the whole thing -- but that he wanted to be included, too. So we had fun with it. He'd heard me read it to the little kids, and so I switched it up a little and inserted a couple stories about when he'd been a baby, which is always a hit. And it worked. We had a good time.

The book is beautiful, the story is beautiful, the illustrations are lovely. If you get it, I recommend the print version, so the kids can grab it off the shelf and bring it to you at storytime - the digital copy just doesn't work well for that kind of thing, and I think this book definitely has "favorite story" potential.

There's also a cute coloring book, and they've got some prints that would be fun decorations for a nursery wall or something like that. 

I'd rather be Your Mommy Coloring book

To see what other Homeschool Review Crew families thought of this book, and how they used it in their homes, click the banner below:

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09 March 2017

Playing in Pastels

This week and last week, we've been working on an art project using soft pastels, which is a new medium for us. Once again, we're using tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece, like we did with the watercolors I wrote about last week. Pretty soon, I'll post a more complete review (about a week and a half), but today we're having so much fun, so I wanted to just show off our art projects!

With art, as with so many other things in a child, we must believe that it is there, or we shall never find it. 
-Charlotte Mason, 1:313

Hero(10) did his first, and independently. I think he enjoys that he can do that with these lessons, and he's done more with them than any of the rest of us: Dragon(6) and Peanut(4) have struggled a little bit with both the directions and with perfectionism.

Pastel projects from our classical homeschool, working with tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece.
Hero's pastel landscape.

Probably the trickiest thing with this project is that our paper is half as large as the teacher's paper, so we ended up finishing early, because we simply ran out of room. And some of the details that she wanted us to slip in were just too small for the space we had, given the tools and our inexperience with them. But it was fun to work on it.

It's funny how impressionable kids are. Dragon wasn't sure that he liked his picture: in fact, he almost asked me not to post his. But then I assured him of two things: first, that I like his work. And second, that, if he really didn't want me to, I would not share his work: it is his, and he controls it. Then he smiled and relaxed, and said that it was ok. I'm glad; I really do like his cute trees!

Pastel projects from our classical homeschool, working with tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece.
Dragon's pastel landscape

Peanut wanted to be doing the project, but even with step-by-step instructions, a group to work with, and as much encouragement as I could offer her, she became increasingly frustrated as her picture looked less and less like the model. Although I told her that it's ok if it's not the same, it was clear that she didn't believe it for a minute, and I don't know how to persuade her. When she'd had enough, I assured her that it's ok to be done.

Pastel projects from our classical homeschool, working with tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece.
Peanut's pastel landscape.

I had a good time. I've never done a pastel project before, and it was a fun medium to play with. I'm loving all the art that we've been doing the past little while. Learning to make beautiful things is a wonderful part of our education; our journey to learn to love that which is lovely, and become the kind of people who can appreciate -and even sometimes create- things which are full of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. That's just a wonderful way of approaching every day life. Classical education is such a blessing to our family!

Pastel projects from our classical homeschool, working with tutorials from Creating a Masterpiece.
My pastel landscape

06 March 2017

Loving Our Poetry

We started reading poetry a while ago. That sounds like so much more than it is: every day, I read 3 poems. One "belongs" to Hero, one to Dragon, and Peanut gets one too. And that's all we do: just read them. Honestly, I have wondered if there was any significant impact, because while the kids do like them enough to ask for them now, we seldom try to discuss them, or even narrate them. But I'm trying to help them to love what is lovely, and poems are, to my surprise (I was a reluctant skeptic at first), quite lovely.
Discovering the joy in poetry with my children, in spite of my initial skepticism. #CharlotteMason #AllTheRiches

Now, probably more than a year after we started reading poems, I finally saw concrete evidence that the poems are impacting my son: he grabbed the book after I was done reading them, and started reading it on his own.

Discovering the joy in poetry with my children, in spite of my initial skepticism. #CharlotteMason #AllTheRiches

I was probably not as wise as I should have been: my emerging reader was reading, and reading beautiful literature. But I wanted to get to our scripture boxes, and get some things marked off our list. I may have threatened to take away the book if he didn't pay at least a little bit of attention to the matter at hand. This was his reaction:

Discovering the joy in poetry with my children, in spite of my initial skepticism. #CharlotteMason #AllTheRiches

We came to an agreement where he got to continue to read the poems. And my eyes are a little more open to the value of our little poetry readings, and the richness that they offer, because of the thought-provoking nature of this incident. Hopefully, next time, I will be more wise in my efforts to find balance between lingering over the lovely things and getting through our list of tasks. It can be tough, some days!

They must grow up upon the best. There must never be a period in their lives when they are allowed to read or listen to twaddle or reading-made-easy. There is never a time when they are unequal to worthy thoughts, well put; inspiring tales, well told. ... we shall train a race of readers who will demand literature - that is, the fit and beautiful expression of inspiring ideas and pictures of life.
-Charlotte Mason 2:263, emphasis original

I'm so glad that we have found Classical Education and Miss Mason's gentle wisdom to help us all grow to be more fully human, more fully reach our potential as God's children. It makes the whole of our lives more beautiful to be making the attempt, however unsteady it sometimes is. Good poetry, despite my initial skepticism, really does deserve a place among the "best books" that we ought to be using to educate ourselves and our children.

... seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith...
-Doctrine and Covenants 109:7


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