Saturday, June 28, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week

1.  Track and Field -- It has been so much fun to watch Iain and Ana enjoying a youth track club this spring.  They've gotten to try sprints, distance running, high jump, long jump, shot put, and javelin and have been able to enjoy being relatively successful.  After all, every kid can run and jump and throw stuff, right?  For a family that doesn't love baseball or lacrosse, track has been a welcome change of pace.






2.  OK Go and Other Creative Types -- Have you see this video for the song "The Writing's On the Wall" by OK Go?  You should watch it and be amazed.  Keep in mind it was filmed in real time, with one camera, and none of the effects are computer-generated.  The fact that there are people in the world doing work this creative and energetic is encouraging to me.  (After you watch the first once, you should also watch this video which is a "making of" and shows how they managed to pull some of visual effects off.)   

3.  Summertime, And the Livin' is Easy -- What else says summer like a blanket on the grass and your big sister reading you a book?  



3.  ...and More Summertime -- Probably one of my favorite things about living here is being able to go berry picking in the summer.  We are right in the midst of strawberry season and life is sweet.









Saturday, June 21, 2014

In Defense of a Little Twaddle: Nancy Drew Days, Encyclopedia Brown, and Chuck

Some would call Harry Potter twaddle.  Not me.
One of my favorite summer memories from my childhood is my "Nancy Drew Days".  When the mood struck me, I would announce to my mom after lunch, "It's a Nancy Drew Day" and proceed to retire to my bedroom with a large stack of the novels, a tall glass of ice water and a big bowl of cherries or grapes or whatever other kind of fruit we happened to have in the house.  I could consume three or four of those books in a few hours, gorging myself on the cheap characterization, simplistic writing, and titillating plot twists.  It was a glorious way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.  I would emerge late in the day, satiated and full, stretching and yawning and completely satisfied.

I know that Charlotte Mason would have been appalled that my parents would even allow the yellow hardback novels into the house, much less feed my habit by purchasing them for me at 10 cents a pop at garage sales.  Mason was a British educator in the late 1800 and early 1900s and founded a homeschooling movement that focuses on "the way children naturally learn and presents a generous curriculum, including nature study, art and music appreciation, and handicrafts, as well as the usual academic subjects. It seeks to 'spread a feast' before the child and let him digest what is appropriate for him at the time. And it uses methods that will nurture a love for learning and reinforce good lifelong habits, not just present a body of information" (from simplycharlottemason.com).  For the most part, I really appreciate and resonate with Mason's philosophies, and wish I did more to integrate them into my homeschooling routines.  One of the ideas for which she is most known is her scathing and contemptuous opinion of what she calls "twaddle" -- language or books which "talk down" to children and assume that they are half-witted, unintelligent beings who cannot comprehend or appreciate worthy and well-told tales.  This includes the fatuous baby talk that some adults are tempted to use when speaking with children ("Ooooo, wook at the pwetty widdle doggies...") and also the books that sometimes pass for children's literature which rely on cheap illustrations and sappy sentimentality to hold the attention.  See: any book written to promote or otherwise coincide with a Disney movie or other cartoon.  Also, most textbooks.

For the most part, I couldn't agree more.  We've always talked to our kids pretty much like they're real human beings, teaching them the correct names for things, and trying to help them appreciate words well-used.  I'm constantly on the lookout for books and materials that will challenge and stretch their imaginations, and I can be pretty heavy handed when it comes to what they are and are not allowed to consume.  I have been known to flat-out disallow certain books from the library (sorry, Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony) and to allow others only with wrinkled nose and gritted teeth (fine, Star Wars and Pinkalicious).  As a parent, I consider it a big part of my job to curate my kids' media exposure, and this includes not only what TV and movies they watch, but what books they read as well, and I take this job pretty seriously.  I will admit that in doing this, I am not always the most consistent person, and I would also acknowledge that there is bound to be debate about what does and does not qualify and true twaddle.  I know that in certain circles the Junie B Jones books are viewed as fluff of the worst sort, but I personally find them hilarious and don't mind the kids reading them.  The Judy Moody and Stink books, on the other hand, have failed to impress me in any way and often seem to rely on bodily function humor to keep readers entertained. Many people would look down their noses at the Harry Potter books, but my own opinion is that they are well worth the time that Iain spent earlier this year reading all seven of them as quickly as he possibly could.

All that said, I think that there are times in the life of a person when a little twaddle is in order.  I am perhaps betraying the Guild of English majors when I say this, but sometimes I think we all need to read things that are just plain fun and entertaining, if for no other reason than that we need to be reminded of what the pure delicious pleasure of reading feels like.  I realized yesterday during our daily reading time that Iain was settled on the couch with Encyclopedia Brown, Ana was upstairs on her bed with a Boxcar Children book, and I was reading a Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde, none of which are particularly challenging or high literary art, but all of which are fun to read.  I certainly want my kids to appreciate and enjoy books like The Trumpet of the Swan and The Railway Children and The Wind in the Willows, and they do.  And I don't mean to imply that reading more "serious" books like these can't be fun.  It certainly is.  But I also want my kids to think of themselves as book lovers, readers, people who can devour whole novels in an afternoon and find it delightful.  I think a bit of fluff every now and then doesn't do this image any harm, and in fact, might even improve it a bit.  As with so many things, the danger is in taking myself and my high ideals a little too seriously, not being flexible enough to recognize when a little something sweet (or "twaddlish") isn't going to hurt anyone.

The thing about my childhood's "Nancy Drew Days" is that they only happened maybe once or twice a summer.  It's not like I did that every day, or even wanted to.  It's kind of like what happens when I've been on vacation or at a party and come home and realize that I've only eaten junk food for an entire day.  What I crave is not more junk food, but something real -- an apple or a salad or some good solid protein.  We all love a little dessert now and then, but, if we're paying attention to our bodies, we know that what we really, really love is a healthy balanced diet.  And the thing is, if you're paying attention, even something that seems at first like twaddle can be something from which you can learn.  Iain's current favorite bedtime reading is The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip, for Pete's sake, the lowest of the low culture.  You would not believe, however, the vocabulary he has picked up, including but not limited to the words "comatose", "somnambulist", "lobotomy" and "seceded". Granted, he's also learned about flame throwers, alien invaders, and chocolate frosted sugar bombs too.  The Mr. and I have been watching the television series Chuck on Netflix, and while it is in many ways television at its very fluffiest and shallowest, it has also been the instigator of a surprising number of serious conversations, on everything from scientism, to the conflict between Romantic and Enlightenment thought, to the nature of an unwanted call and what happens when someone is forced to become something they never wanted to become.  Plus, it's fun.  And sometimes, that's just what you need.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lately

It's been quiet here on the blog, but not in real life.  We're just passing though a very busy season of sports practices and other end-of-year activities.  But somewhere in the midst of it all, the seasons tipped over from cold to warm, from long sleeves and sweatshirts to tank tops and shorts, from crackling brown to waving green.  The long-held tension of winter released into the relief of spring and we feel the goodness of it in our bones.

Watching a beaver swimming in the swamp.


Someone had a birthday and got her craft on.

4-H continues to be one of our favorite things.


The Mr. and Calum made it through another season of T-Ball.  



We spent Father's Day wandering waterfalls.  




And against all odds, we have a garden again this year, which produced this ridiculously large radish behind my back.  Grace grows in every shape.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week

1.  Buds on the Maple Tree -- 'Nuff said!


2.  Affirmation of Educational Methods -- On a tip from Kirstin at catapult* magazine, I read this article by Peter Gray entitled "The Play Deficit".  Every once in a while, it's nice to have someone else affirm that what I feel deep in my gut about the way my kids learn is actually at least partially true.  I've written before about the dilemma faced by a homeschooling mom who, on the one hand knows that if her kids are left to their own devices will simply never choose to learn many things that they probably should learn, and on the other hand knows that real "learning" often looks very different from what we have been trained to expect.  I'm grateful that I am able to give my kids plenty of time to play.

3.  Homemade Burger Buns --  I was inspired to try to make my own burger buns after watching a friend put her bread machine to use to make rolls for hot dogs.  "I can do that," I thought, and sure enough, a little internet research yielded this recipe from King Arthur Flour which produced truly beautiful buns.  I dumped the ingredients in my bread machine, set it to "dough," shaped the result into rounds, and just a little while later we enjoyed them for dinner.  I may never buy them again.  (Well, of course I'll probably buy them again, but now I know I have a legitimately easy other option). 

4.  A New Podcast -- I recently started listening to America's Test Kitchen Radio, a weekly podcast in which Chris Kimble talks to various interesting people about interesting food-related things and also takes calls from listeners with his "culinary expert" Bridget Lancaster.  If you know the cookbooks or have seen the show on PBS, you'll know what to expect: smart, interesting discussions and helpful tips, delivered without a trace of smugness or kow towing to foodie fads. 

5.  Resurrection Celebrations -- Last Sunday, our church held a joint sunrise service with the church down the street, a collaboration which, though the two churches have been about a quarter mile from each other for forty years, was a total first.  We figured about 80+ people showed up, which was for both churches a great improvement on last year's attendance, and it was a truly wonderful time of celebration and may have been the beginning of a new tradition.  He is risen indeed!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Sitting here at the kitchen table, I can see the kids outside in their playhouse, "spring cleaning".  They decided that since our first crocuses have opened their wary purple-gold eyes and the grass is beginning to show more than a faint tinge of green the time had come.  Brooms are being mustered.  Rags are being collected.  All is busyness and important action.

I know how those crocuses and kids are feeling, like I too am uncurling from a long winter nap, ready for sun on my face and sap to run in my veins.  And it inspires the same kind of clean-it-up fervor in me. It has been a long frozen winter; my creativity slowed to a trickle and my energy for anything new clogged up.  We've been in maintenance mode for a long time and I'm ready for an overhaul.

Lent was supposed to be my spring cleaning frenzy, inside and out.  I had big plans, bigger than perhaps was reasonable to expect to accomplish.  Problem was, my big plans didn't come with any realistic supporting plans, like how to actually accomplish what I was setting out to do. So it shouldn't be surprising that here we are, about ready to round the corner into Holy Week, and all my great expectations for Lenten discipline have come to naught, my fast worth less than the paper I brainstormed it on.  This is something at which I've discovered I'm actually quite good: creating grand schemes for accomplishing magnificent things, and then watching them all go up in smoke. All too often I'm left with the feeling of being utterly ineffective and inept as I compare my hopelessly high ideals with my messy and sputtering real.

But if Lent is "for" anything, perhaps this is the very thing.  Those dusty ashes on my forehead several Wednesdays ago meant nothing if not to remind me that "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out" (Romans 7:15, 18b).  Lent is, at its heart, a six-week lament for "this body of death" that we carry around with us, day in and day out.  I've got to deal with my own personal laziness and bad choices, and also the sheer cussedness of the world which keeps me from realizing my very good intentions.  But, even deeper down, Lent is also a six-week process of stirring awake, stretching my arms toward the sun and coming alive again.  It is rebirth, renewal, revival, so that at the end of it I can say, in spite of all my failures along the way, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set [me] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1,2).    

Let the clean out begin!







Saturday, March 29, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week

What's better than the news that you have a healthy baby on the way?  We think it looks like she has Ana's nose too!