Recent Reads / October ’15

Ordinary by Michael Horton

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I’ve just started reading this book with our JOY (Future Minister’s Wives) group and find the premise intriguing. We hear a lot these days about living big lives, being able to accomplish anything, being radical Christians, etc. Horton argues instead that mundane faithfulness ought to be the goal of our lives.

Here’s a section that stood out to me (he’s quoting a blog post):

“What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily everydayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.”

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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This is a good example of a book that encourages us to live big/radical lives. Quadriplegic Will Traynor meets his new paid companion, Louisa Clark, and can’t stand the fact that she’s living an ordinary life. They have conversations like this:

“So where did you pick up your exotic tastes? Where else have you lived?”
“I haven’t.”
“What, you’ve only ever lived here?”
“Only here.” I turned and looked at him, crossing my arms over my chest defensively. “So? What’s so weird about that?”
“It’s such a small town. So limiting . . . I always think this is the kind of place that people come back to. When they’ve become tired of everything else. Or when they don’t have enough imagination to go anywhere else . . . It’s not exactly dynamic, is it? Not exactly full of ideas or interesting people or opportunities . . . You’re twenty-six years old, Clark. You should be out there, claiming the world as your own, getting in trouble in bars, showing off your strange wardrobe to dodgy men . . .”
“I’m happy here,” I said.
“Well, you shouldn’t be.”

One thing Lucy Maud Montgomery excels at is showing the loveliness of ordinary life. And I wish I could say that Louisa plays the part of LMM for Will, opening his eyes to the truth that ordinary activities, like peeling potatoes and encouraging a friend, done in love are good and worthwhile things to do. Instead, Louisa is the one who realizes that her small life is the result of being paralyzed (ahem, pun intended) by her past. It makes for a wretched and unsatisfying ending. O, for a Middlemarch-like ending instead!

“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
– George Eliot

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit; head on over there to read more brief book reviews.

Autumn Ramblings

The other day we ventured out to Canterbury Hills while Alice was napping at home with Jeremy. James and June loved rambling around and exploring the forest!

I was rather more interested in the civil war (I think) drama being filmed on location. I huffed and puffed as I pushed seventy pounds of children past uniformed men camped in tents with cannons a hop and a skip away. A film crew member halted our progress at one point, bid us to be reverently silent and eventually received permission via his official looking headphones to “release the civilians.” Ha!

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Getting more and more adventurous, that James. And June would be up there in a heartbeat if she could.

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And a few of our darling baby girl to end this post. Adieu!

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A Few of our Favourite Books

If you know me at all, you know I love to read. And one of my aims as a mom is to share this love of reading with my children, and to hopefully pass it on to them, too. I take the view of Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a Mother who read to me.

And so we read together a lot. I love it. But I’m also pretty choosy when it comes to purchasing books. I don’t care to have the equivalent of Doritos and doughnuts lining our shelves; I’d rather fill them up with rich and beautiful tales that will feed and nourish our kids’ imagination.

So when I buy books, I look for three things: books that are written with vivid, beautiful language; books that tell wonderful stories; and books that show what it is to live virtuously.

Here are some of our favourites.

1. St. George & the Dragon by Margaret Hodges

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The wonderful tale of Princess Una, who finds a courageous knight to fight the dragon that has been laying waste to her parents’ kingdom.

Arenda: “This is such a good story. Like Chesterton said, fairy tales give children a Saint George to slay the dragon. This story shows what evil looks like, but also gives children a noble victor over evil. And that truth – that good is stronger evil – is so beautiful! Plus the illustrations are gorgeous.”
James: “I like this book because Saint George fights the dragon, and the dragon breathes fire out and there’s lots of struggles.”

(Note: The Kitchen Knight by Margaret Hodges is a good companion book to this one.)

2. The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

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The ox-cart man brings the fruit of his land to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Arenda: “This story’s plot is pretty tame, but the great thing about it this book is the way it beautifully shows the resourcefulness of a pilgrim family. The ox-cart man’s and his family turn flax to linen, knit shawls from wool from their sheep, make candles and grow all sorts of food. There’s so much to admire!”
James: “I like that they pack up and that he sells his ox!”

3. Virginia Lee Burton books

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This Virginia Lee Burton treasury includes Mike Mulligan (the story of a hard-working, old-fashioned steam shovel), The Little House (which I fondly remember from my childhood), and Katy and the Big Snow (the story of an industrious snowplow).

Arenda: “James likes these stories more than I do. But what I like about them is they have a fondness for the way things have been, instead of only appreciating what is flashy and new. And they show what it’s like to work hard.”
James: “Katy is my favourite. She has a bulldozer and a snowplow. Interesting!”

4. Obadiah the Bold by Brinton Turkle

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Obadiah is terribly fond of his new brass spyglass and thinks he’d like to be a pirate when he grows up – until his father teaches him about true bravery.

Arenda: “Obadiah is a little Quaker pilgrim living on Nantucket Island. I like the formal but oh-so-loving relationship between Obadiah and his father who tells him about his courageous grandfather.”
James: “I like that Obadiah gets shoved into that closet.”

5. Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman

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Little Red Riding Hood encounters a wolf on her way to her grandmother’s house.

Arenda: “We read lots of fairy tales to our kids! This is a somewhat grim version of Little Red Riding Hood seeing as the big, bad wolf eats her and her grandmother. But good triumphs in the end, plus there’s a great line about children obeying their parents (James has repeated LRRH’s line, “Yes, mother, I will do just as you tell me” quite often!). You can get lost in the lovely illustrations.”
James: “I like that the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother and that he doesn’t even say hello or anything, and that the huntsman kills the wolf.”

6. Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer

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Another lovely book that tells the tale of hard-working, kind-hearted Beauty, her lazy sisters, and a gruesome beast.

Arenda: “I just wish this version had illustrations on every page.”
James: “I like where he says, ‘I prowl for my food.'”

7. The Water of Life by Barbara Rogasky (based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm)

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Three brothers search for the water of life to heal their dying father.

Arenda: “A tale of two wicked brothers and one good brother and their search for the water of life. Quite a neat little story with wonderful pictures.”
James: “I like that the dwarf tells the youngest one how to get the water of life because he is not too proud like his brothers were.”

8. My Book House series edited by Olive Beaupre Miller

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Arenda: “The first book in this series is full of nursery rhymes, the sort that I could read to Alice. And the rest have stories and poems that grow increasingly complex and end with sections from Dickens and other wonderful writers. A series to grow up with.”
James: “I like that the fairies had given Ellie two wings and that every Sunday she would fly away.”

We’ve started reading a handful of longer chapter books as well, just reading a chapter or two a day. As long as they have illustrations on every other page or so, James is happy to listen to the story.

1. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

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Arenda: “This is the original Pinocchio story and it’s far different than anything I remember! It’s downright grim at times, like the part where assassins hang Pinocchio from a tree. But it’s quite a moving story, one that shows the slow progress of regeneration. Pinocchio is ‘born’ selfish and lazy, but he develops into a real boy, one who honours his father, is diligent in his studies and cares for others.”
James: “I like that he gets swallowed up by the whale!”

2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Arenda: “A lovely story of true friendship.”
James: “I like the part where Avery swings on the rope swing in the barn!”

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Arenda: “Some of the best children’s books ever written. Beautiful language, romping adventures, plus sacrifice and honour and courage. Absolutely recommended, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
James: “I like Aslan the best.”

A Homeschool Beginning

Around the time James was born, Jeremy and I began discussing the possibility of homeschooling our children. As we talked, we discovered that we were both drawn to a classical form of education. For me, this was born from having read C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis had a classical education and when you read his books you quickly realize just how deep is his knowledge of the great works of literature. There’s this cozy familiarity, this love, of good and wonderful stories, poems and works of philosophy. I wanted that for my children, and God, in his great goodness, gave me a husband who also desired that for his kids!

And last month, we got started! So here’s what homeschooling looks like for us these days. Every weekday morning, James, June and I have Tea Time together. This is a time for us to pray, read and discuss a part of the Bible, sing beautiful hymns and recite some lovely poetry together. We usually end Tea Time by reading a book aloud on the couch. We just finished reading Pinocchio last week; if you’ve only ever read the Disney version, the original by Carlo Collodi is so much darker, deeper and more wonderful. James loved it! Now we’re reading Up One Pair of Stairs, which is part of the My Book House series. We’re really enjoying it, too. June flits in and out of the room as we read, but James is captivated.

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One of the stories in Up One Pair of Stairs is called The Owl’s Answer to Tommy and it tells the tale of a lazy boy who asks an owl where he might find a brownie (a house elf who’d do household chores while the family slept) to do his chores for him. The owl ends up telling him, “All children are brownies.” James looked at me with huge eyes when I read that part of the story. And then the other morning Jeremy left early for school and James was the first of the rest of us to arise from bed. When we joined him downstairs, he proudly told me he’d been a little brownie and swept the floor and tidied up his all his toys. (I just wanted to squish him hearing that!)

The other part of homeschooling involves teaching James to read. He has been ready for reading for some time, but I hadn’t found a curriculum that I was happy with. We’d tried two books (Teach a Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Alpha Phonics), but they share a similar problem: they sneak in words that don’t follow the rules, and don’t explain the exceptions.

For example, the book would say, “Have the child read the following words” and then would follow a list like so:
mat
bin
hat
pat
ban
has

Can you spot the problem with that list? Well, if you are teaching James that “S” says “ssssss” and you come to “has”, he will pronounce it “hassss” and no amount of “well, in this situation it actually says ‘zzzz'” will make him change the pronunciation. And no wonder! We all like rules that are consistent!

So, anyways, after much frustration and much internet research, I finally found an absolutely excellent program called Logic of English that teaches children to read in a logical, step by step manner, explaining everything. It’s been a godsend. It’s thorough, the explanations are clear and logical, and it slowly builds on what has already been learned.

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We work through one lesson a day, and that lesson involves a number of things:
– phonogram practice, that is, saying all the sounds of a letter. For example, A has three sounds: ah, ay and aw. Ah as in mat, ay as in table, aw as in father. And S has two sounds: ssss and zzzz! 🙂 (If you have an iPad or an iPhone, there is a really helpful app for phonogram practice that only costs $2.99.)
– blending sounds
– handwriting practice
– spelling words
– reading

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I lean more towards being a no frills kind of teacher, but sometimes I forget that James is just four years old. And four-year olds love to have fun, right? 🙂 So we do the silly games suggested in the textbook: reading a word, then acting it out – run, jump, spin, etc. Or the phonogram march game, where if James says the phonogram sounds correctly he gets to take one giant step and if he gets it wrong he gets sent back to the beginning. So dramatic and thrilling!

The handwriting portion was pretty frustrating in the beginning, but in the last few days something has really clicked and James is making great strides in his writing. We are actually teaching him cursive first as you can see (if you’re wondering why, here’s a very helpful explanation.). James wrote his first word in cursive the other day: dad! 🙂

I think part of the reason for tying reading with writing is that actually writing out the letter helps kids to really know that letter. James used to mix up his Bs and Ds quite regularly, but since he’s started writing Ds he rarely mixes them up anymore.

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Okay, seriously, look at those letters! Aren’t they grand? I’m so proud of him! 🙂

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One thing I wasn’t really expecting was how tenderly James would respond to different forms of praise. The book had suggested having James write several letters at a time and then putting a star beside the best one. James’s heart nearly burst when I wrote a little star beside one of his letters, he was just so pleased with it. Today he was so tickled with a star I gave him he wanted to give me a sun in return. He named the bigger sun James and the littler sun June. 🙂

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So, that is what homeschooling looks like for us right now: Tea Time in the morning, a reading lesson during June’s nap and reading lots of books aloud. It’s pretty low-key and James is loving it so far.