Not easy, but worth it

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. G.K.Chesterton

Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. Andre Gide

Life is either a great adventure or nothing. Helen Keller

Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to. J.R.R. Tolkien

Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul. William Somerset Maugham


It begins

A house jack. Know what a house jack is? This is a house jack. Not the guy ... the thing that looks like a car jack. That orange cylinder is a house jack in use.

It is jacking up the corner of my house, making it so that the front edge of the living room is not at an elevation lower than the middle or back part. And this new sensation of a level living room floor is ... well, it's new and nice and good, ... but ... I think I need to learn some serious biofeedback techniques to get through this remodeling. During the changing floor elevations coming into being, the house sounds as if it's going to shatter.


Unprovided with original learning,
unformed in the habits of thinking,
unskilled in the arts of composition,
I resolved to write a book.

Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

No, not YOU're a Mongoose - I'M a Mongoose

You're a Mongoose!

Famous and fabled, you are well-loved by those around you, especially
those above you. You rise to many challenges, and your speed and agility allow you
to outwit those you don't like and others hate. While you don't appear vicious,
your unassuming appearance helps draw people into underestimating you. You really
like the name Rikki.

Take the Animal Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.


Dinners at the Ideal Cafe

Over on the always delightful Confessions of a Pioneer Woman blog, there is this lovely bit of stuff.

They'd all been friends since Truman and during our countless dinners at the Ideal Café, they neither gossiped nor bickered nor griped. Instead, they filled our dinner table discussion by recounting, in great detail, their activities of the previous week---apparently in an effort to bring some sense of importance and permanence to the everyday.

I sure hope Pioneer Woman writes a whole novel one day. That's good stuff.

That's the thing about baby birds in flight

People watch what happens in a bird's nest, and people say that it's the same with us bipeds. They say our babies grow and either "fly the nest" or need to be booted from it forcibly. Okay, I can see that. ... And people call the depression that the adults experience the "empty nest syndrome." Okay, that makes sense. But there's something nobody tells you! I never heard anyone talking about this part of it. (Was I just not listening, or do people not talk about this part?)

The fear. Nobody tells you about the fear.

Grief ... they talk about that. For some reason of human contrariness, we grieve when our kids grow successfully into adulthood. Odd, and unreasonable, but true.

And adjustment. People talk about that too. Revising one's own self-image out of "parent of children" into "parent with no active parenting role" ... I've seen people do that with great aplomb and creative exuberance, and I've seen people who refuse to do it, deny it's happening, and simply continue to attempt to parent their large, voting, marrying, parenting-their-own-kids kids who aren't kids any more. And people talk about that transition. Judith Viorst's helpful book Necessary Losses talks about this. Good book, that one.

But the fear. Nobody tells you about the fear.

Remember when that child was very small, yet large enough to begin to be mobile? Remember the way your heart caught in your throat as the child learned to walk, and "walking" was a silly word for that process of stepping into the falling forward and the occasional not stepping so that the falling happened instead? (It's scary to watch, but it's funny too. And the kid is so completely thrilled with himself that his enthusiasm is contagious. We all learn to cheer at the walking.)

But what about the stairs! Stairs do have to be navigated eventually, after all. Even if you were one of those parents who opted out of the pulse-arresting period of crawlers going up and down the stairs, and even if you resorted to gates and overturned chairs and anything else you could find to keep your small one from the magnetic and fascinating staircase, you still had to live with watching a short-legged little sprite of a human, and once he did learn to hang onto the railing and go up and down stairs on his own, walking upright, when the steps were as tall as the whole of the child's inseam, you still had to watch that moment.

It's terrifying to watch -- but if you don't just let them do it ... well, what would you end up with? Do you really want to have to carry the "child" up and down when he's eight years old? No. You don't want that. So you let them risk life and limb and your own blood pressure elevations, and you let them learn to do stairs. And if you're a Montessori devotee, you might even devise "stairs" for practice in a non-life-threatening way. (This is a pretty good idea - climb little things, and get the climbing techniques in ways that won't end badly at the bottom of a whole flight of stairs. "Flight" of stairs! It's the opposite of flight when the small body is tumbling down the stairs.)

We get over that fear, though. We learn to take delight in the child's delighted mastering of a new skill. Babies are supposed to learn to do this, and besides -- it makes our lives easier when they can walk on their own two feet, and dress their own little bodies, and go up and down the stairs without our needing to set down the groceries (or the next new baby) to carry them. And life is going by so quickly that we don't even have time to wallow in those first parenting fears.

But a whole new world has opened up around here now, and I demand to know why I wasn't told! Our three kids are (typically) taking three very divergent paths into the great unknown future, and we are watching. We watch as we did when they were babies rolling over for the first time, and toddlers learning to walk more than fall, and preschoolers going up and down the stairs. We're in the stage of emptying our nest, and ...well .. the thing about baby birds in flight is that there is nothing to do but watch. There's no assistance possible now. None. Wherever we do more than sit in an advisory capacity, ready if asked, we take from them the chance to fly on their own. What happens if you try to assist a bird mid-flight? There's no flying possible if you "assist" with that, now is there? You just gotta kick 'em out, and watch 'em go. The time for teaching becomes the time for review. The semester's done. The rehearsals are over. Whatever metaphorical way I explain this to myself, the fact is that I can't do anything but watch while they begin to fly on their own.

And I feel a resurgence of every time I ever watched that child learn something new and dangerous, and all those times become this time here, now, and rolled into one reaction of helpless fear, intensified by the knowledge of what happens if they forget how to flap their wings. It's one thing to fall off the practice steps - and quite another to fall from flight near the tops of the trees.

And yet ...

And yet ...

I remember another thing now too.

I remember the wave upon crashing wave of happiness that goes with each new thing. The baby who wills himself into a creep and then a crawl and then a cruise around the furniture ... it feels like all the victories of all the efforts of all the world to watch that one small child learn to walk into his world and be eager to take hold of it. It feels like banners waving and cheering crowds. The parent who participates in the first steps is the parent who claps and smiles and showers applause on that one little human person because every parent feels this sense of overwhelming happiness at this common, ordinary, startling, victorious event.

So here I am again. I cheer for my son who sends me an email with the subject line "yeah, I'm still alive." He's had a rough time of it lately, and he's shaking the cobwebs from his young and frustrated brain by "traveling to friends house to friends house and being a bum. dont worry its cool with them. i have changes of clothes and toothbrush and everything and im still going to work on time and been paying my bills and still know i still owe dad a bunch of money and im still going to pay him back." I cheer ... and I need a tissue. He knows how to take hold of his own life, and he learned somewhere to tell me that it's okay - he's okay - he knows I need to know that. Somewhere along the line, he figured out that I could cheer with genuine happiness, but that I still might need a tissue.

Thanks, Steve. I'll see ya when I see ya.

Font fix

That's what it needed! A font fix! Thanks for your input, everyone. And thanks for reading. What a silly thing it seems to me to be writing into the cyberspace, and hope that my thoughts make sense outside my head on someone's computer screen, and that those sensible thoughts are somehow pleasant or desired or even interesting to someone other than me. Thank you.


Maybe Tomorrow?

Draw Customized Symbols - ImageChef.com
Here's hoping! Today, no access at home. Using borrowed computer. Tomorrow I will have all kinds of brainstorms piling up and causing cranial pressure, I am sure. So here's hoping ...


Tell me what you think

Chime in, Readers! Is this a better or more readable format for this blog?

I've been looking at it on a computer not my own, and I hate the green background here! It's so pretty on my computer at home, but now I think maybe it doesn't translate. Do you like it this way or the old way? Could some of you chime in and say?


Equilibrium and disequilibrium

We noticed it in our kids before we read about it in a book. Actually, I was noticing it blindly - I was dealing (wrestling?) with it, but not having words for it. It was my husband who put words to it.

He saw it and called it expansion vs. processing/contraction and later, he called it gathering information vs. synthesizing information. Like his daughter after him, he could remember doing and feeling this cycle when he was a child. The book I eventually found, one of Drs. Ames and Ilg's classics on child development, called it equilibrium vs. disequilibrium. Whatever you call it, though, if you've raised children, you've seen it.

The authors of the books say that this cycle goes in approximately six-month-long waves, but I'm not so sure about that part. How long each swing of the pendulum takes is more individual to the child, I think, and I also think it happens a couple of times before that first six-monther. Our first two kids were about one and a half years apart, and their cycles most definitely overlapped from time to time. I still get tired just thinking about it.

I don't think we ever stop doing this absorbing and rhythmic life dance. We put our right foot in, and put our right foot out, and do the hokey pokey over and over and over. It goes on for the whole of our lives, in ever-lengthening rhythms of ebb and flow, and although we don't blitz through the passages every six months as we age, we still have this movement in our lives. Or ... we should have it.

The swing of the pendulum. The change of the tide. Left, right, left, right ... this is how the world works. We breathe in the air we need for our lives, and we breathe out the extra air to carry the toxins that would kill us if we harbored them. We find our depth of vision through the use of two eyes, and we both wake and sleep. Back and forth, back and forth, we proceed through our human lives, and along the way this back-coming and forth-going forms and molds and changes us.

If we watch our small, young people, if we will just pay attention for a minute, we can figure out how it works. We can, it seems to me, get a clue about ourselves as people - grown people work the same way as not grown people - they're just bigger.

In cycles of about six months at a time, the youngest among us will expand their worlds, and experiment, and try things, and find the edges of their own small places. This expansive time is the time when the parents of young children find themselves picking up the pieces of things and saying, "How did she even see that? And when did she get tall enough to reach it?" This is the season of being stunned at sudden frustrated aggression and, sometimes, full-blown outraged tantrums rise up and bother everyone in the room - including the tantrum thrower. ... And one day the tantrum thrower mellows out and becomes angelically contented. Poof! The tide turns, the mood shifts, the season changes. It's enough to wear a loving parent out.

But don't blame the kid! He didn't make the setup. Just like you, he has to work within what is, and while he's little, he's figuring out just what that means. And, for all his occasional outbursts, a child is really quite meek. He depends on people older and bigger than he is, and he will believe the version of the world you make for him. Maria Montessori was right. It's easily observed. As she was fond of saying, "Look at the child." Those first six years or so are most certainly a time when the developing human has an "absorbent mind."

The human person will believe his childish impressions at least until he gets to be a teenager, when the time (now much longer than six-months in a cycle) of disequilibrium nearly makes him and his parents nuts. And after that ... well? Ask yourself. Do we "grow out of it"? No. We don't. We keep doing the back and forth, back and forth, and the cycles merely get longer and deeper and harder to get in and out of. We get bigger and less flexible, but the tides we're in keep changing.

Lately I have been watching people who are in their 70's and 80's, and I have been listening to them, and I have been getting a bit concerned. Does the cycle get stuck in such stubborn equilibrium that only the grownup versions of security blankets and naps on time are allowed into a person's conscious life? Am I headed into a world in which my version of reality is as unique to me as it was when I was three years old? Are all old people destined to become large wrinkled toddlers? Ack! What a horrid idea!

But wait a minute. I know old people who did not "lose" their grip at all. I know old people who stay conscious in their lives. They did - they do - most certainly (consciously) let go of things, but they don't lose anything except the flexibility of their own bodies - and sometimes not even too much of that! Aunt Nita walked upstairs to her bedroom the night she died, and she laid down and went to sleep - in the Orthodox sense. She fell asleep. She kept house and read books and cooked legendary foods and enjoyed the extended family right up through that very last day. If she were the only old person in the whole world who stayed flexible in her life, that would be proof enough that it could be done. But she's not the only one. I know a lot of people who are both interested and interesting.

So where is the difference? What happens to some people - inside of some people?

I think what happens is mostly a matter of this rhythm of equilibrium and disequilibrium - rootedness and ability to bend - breathing in and breathing out - and it is a matter of our ability and willingness to stay connected to the rhythm.

We each started our lives like some small underwater plant spore, tossed in the currents of the tide, completely and utterly helpless in the forces of gravity and the effect of the moon on the oceans. We were very small.

If our parent plants did their jobs, we found a rock to touch. We learned to cling to our rock with our sticky little feet, and once we figure out how to cling, we learn how to grow. Growing feels the tides and changes and other things in the water with us, and so then we learn to bend and wave and flex in a changing world. We learn the rhythm of the tides.

And if we don't learn all of this, we can be ripped from our rocks and tossed onto the beach to dry in the sun. Or ... if we learn only to root but not to flex, we break in the force of the storms or we are broken by larger and stronger beings. Life needs both rootedness and adaptability.

So how do I intend to reach my own old age in a state of both wise strength and meek adaptation to reality? Well, I'll tell you.

I intend to be honest with myself about my own versions of the deadly sins. I intend to tell myself the truth about my own lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride, and I intend to get better and better at this through practice.

I intend to be grateful for the truth of the blessings in this life, and I intend to list them to myself with conscious words. I intend to name them. I intend to say thank you for friendship and family love and shelter and flavor and sound and color and rain and sun and seasons.

I intend to deliberately seek after the virtues of love, worship, reverence, diligence, discipline, kindness, self-control, honesty, truthfulness, and contentment. These are the virtues of the Ten Commandments.

And, most of all, I think that it seems to be necessary to be aware of the tide. Someday, when my body is nearly worn out, I want to be so aware of the tide that it will cause me no more than a moment's hesitant fear each time I need to let go of one more thing. At first, we had to learn to stick, and sometimes to cling. In the end, the task reverses and comes back to its own beginning. In the end, I think we un-stick. We de-cling. We let go. And that it how we get finally to find The Beginning and The Ending, the Alpha and Omega, the One who teaches us the truth by making all the world an expanding and contracting, night and day, season upon season, gloriously living, tidal rhythm.


Nowhere in sight

So ... a friend and I are are making lunch plans ... and she sends me a message ... and she tells me that arm wrestlers are "nowhere in sight" at the restaurant I've picked. And then she asks the question, "Is that now here? Or no where?"


Human Error

"I like them to talk nonsense. That's man's one privilege over all creation. Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes, and very likely a hundred and fourteen." Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

It makes me want to lift a glass with a hearty "hear, hear!" toward his end of the table. He's right! We humans are the ones with enough imagination to really screw up - and to reach the very heights of Heaven itself. It is humans who do this colossal, spectacular, repeated, seemingly clueless mistake making ... and it is humans who can imagine a thousand possibilities for finding the Truth.

We don't like it, though. We hate being caught "out" and making "mistakes" and not getting things "right the first time." We want to be sure to measure twice so that we only cut once, and we squirm under correction and resist the knowledge that will bring us better perspective and more wisdom. It is humans who are able to refuse to learn - and unlike the dumb creatures, we talk about it. In great, plaintive tones, we moan and whine when our imagined outcomes come out to bite us in the butts. How dare the universe not do as we have expected it to do? Isn't wanting it to be that way enough to make it true?

Nuh-uh. It ain't. Wanting won't do it. Wishing on a star won't make your dreams come true. Learning more things won't do it. Understanding the big picture and thinking outside the box won't do it. Intellectualizing and visualizing and conceptualizing won't do it. All those things might help along the way, and might give us recognition or inclination ... but after all is thought and said and longed for, the only thing that will teach us to ride the waves and to really surf our lives - use the power of all the wide ocean, here where you make contact with it under your own two feet, is the making of those fourteen (and more likely, a hundred and fourteen) mistakes, choking on the sea water, bruising ourselves on the uncooperative board, and getting out there to do it again. The path to Life is not geared toward frequent gold stars and extensive positive reinforcement. It's about the mistakes. They are what we are. They teach us to live, and ultimately, they free us.

I've been thinking about this ... about the blessing of a period of Novitiate - in any part of life. The learning part - the part where we're still novices and still need instruction and help and direction - the part where we're not masters yet. I find it very intriguing that although we humans are surrounded by artists and athletes and musicians and scientists and dancers and children (for crying out loud, we have all been children!), we still disdain our novitiates. What is that? Why do we do that?

Then, yesterday, I heard the perspective of a very old Saint in the Christian Church. Instead of our modern notion that "meekness" is equivalent to "spinelessness" or to subservience or obsequiousness, wherein the polar opposite is Pride, the old idea of Meekness was the opposite of Anger.

Ooooh! We know that. We know that the angry person is the one who has stopped taking in any information. We know that the one who doesn't spin out of control in an angry tantrum is the one with the power. (If you doubt it, use the clarity of this illustration: A man comes home early to find his wife in bed with another woman. He stands and looks and remains completely calm. He tells them he will speak to them in the kitchen when they are ready. He leaves. .... yikes! Who has the power there?)

Meekness doesn't fight what is. That's what meekness really is. It's as tough as nails, and it keeps going back in there to make the hundred and first and the hundred and second mistake, not because it is fighting reality, but because it it trying to find reality and enter it and participate in it. Children meekly listen to their adults, and posit theories about the world, test those theories, and revise them according to experience. We all knew how to do this when we were little. In some areas of our lives, we can remember it.

The meekness of an athlete accepts pain in muscles and tendons and joints and nerves, and the meekness of a musician accepts the lack of time "free" for anything but rehearsal. Meekness learns to surf. Anger rails at the ocean and remains standing on the sand. Anger is a child who refuses to revise his theories - who demands that it shall not be so when permission is refused. Anger refuses data. Slams the book closed, and says, Forget it! If this won't be what I want it to be, I won't know about it.

Anger is weak, and its opposite is Meekness - the old definition of Meekness - the strength to find the truth - even if it takes a hundred and fourteen errors.

Some ideas are just bad

Look closely ... it's an actual product that was really made and really sold and really used ... see what it is? Oh, c'mon. Look again. It's an arm-wrestling machine!!!

Now, have you seen the movie Philadelphia Story? There's a line - an answer to "it doesn't take much imagination to figure out what happened." The answer is, "not much, perhaps, but of a certain kind."

Well, how much of a certain kind of imagination does it take to anticipate the possibility that an arm-wrestling machine might not be a good idea? I figure the answer is somewhere between knowing the probabilities of success for a kid who says, "if I hold the sheet out just right, I will fly off this barn roof," and ... say ... being able to anticipate that one might burn food left too long on the stove. Not much, perhaps, but of a certain kind.

So what happened? They released this innovation into the marketplace, and lo and behold, people got their arms broken! Go figure! They're recalling it - and the manufacturer is quite certain that it must've been the fault of the players themselves that they got injured. I must say, I agree with the manufacturers. Players would not have needed much imagination ... but only of a certain kind.


Light rain

I wonder if light in Heaven is made of rain - or if earthly rain can turn into light. And I wish I could spell the sound that the rain is making today. The summer rain. Soft and light and soaking and steady. I can hear it on the leaves of the lilac bush and the locust tree outside my kitchen window, and I can hear it landing on the metal roof of the woodshed and the well house and splashing quietly on the cement of the path that leads to the door. And to me, today, it sounds like the the words we pray for the dead. It sounds like "light, and refreshment, and peace." But I don't know how to spell the sound. It sounds like rest.


No, not even then

Grabel's Law

2 is not equal to 3,

... not even for large values of 2.

All's right

This picture is from French Word-a-day ... and the post that follows it is a study in cultures, and perhaps also in the differences between men and women in any culture ... and the need we all have for a horizon. Lovely reading ... but it's these sheep that made my day. God is in his heaven (and the sheep are as silly and lovely as ever here on earth), and all's right with the world.


Only wonder

"Concepts create idols.
Only wonder understands anything."
Saint Gregory of Nyssa

I just heard this quote on Ancient Faith Radio (and I've added this site to my links over in the right-hand column on the front page of this blog). I've been listening to this station for most of the morning, and my soul feels as if it's had a chiropractic adjustment and a deep massage.

The Orthodox have always felt much more free to declare "it's a mystery" and to preserve the humility of a child when they come to the Almighty. Since my own path has crossed and re-crossed the dogmatic lines of Dogmatic Theology in the West in so many ways, this perspective of wonder and mystery is a great, detoxifying antidote. It is not wrong to seek God - it is just pompous to declare that we have defined Him.

What else was in the dumpster?

Who knew! Apparently "looted" is a real word. I thought it was slang for "stolen." But no ... apparently, "The Commission for Looted Art in Europe" is representing the family from which a valuable Middle Ages cross had been stolen when the Nazis marched across the people and plunder of Europe, crushing and dispersing everything they could touch.

Now this cross has been found - by a dumpster diver - who may or may not be receiving compensation for her find. The museum is holding it for safe keeping while it is decided where the treasure should go.

The cross was in the dumpster because the clueless relatives of a hotel owner cleaned out his house after he died - they didn't want it, so they chucked it into the trash. And the dumpster diver found it.

And I find myself wondering what else they threw away when they cleaned out that house. Were there books with the age spot foxing on the edges of the pages? Paintings that didn't seem important? I have a very clear vision of a heap of "trash" I saw once in a similar situation, heaped up next to the door ... and I wonder what else went out with the litter that day.


Hey! 's me!!

I can't help it - I really do enjoy nearly everything Mary Engelbreit. I don't know what's wrong with me! I don't like "cute" stuff. I swear I don't. But I like this. And I think it was very kind of her to face me away from the crowd if she's going to show what I do with my time.

Lewis on love

To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung
and possibly be broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one,
not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies
and little luxuries;
avoid all entanglement;
lock it up safe in the casket
or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket
--safe, dark, motionless, airless--
it will change.
It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable,
The only place outside Heaven
where you can be perfectly safe
from all the dangers of love
is Hell.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

If you pray

If you pray and pray and pray - if you plead - often in tears - trying to trust - that your child gets some traction in life... if you ask for guardian angels and patron saints to protect and to pray... if you beat the subject to death and then when it looks as if there might be life still there you beat it again, together with your equally helpless and worried spouse... if you pray until you feel as if your chest is being torn apart from the inside and you keep telling God, "this child is Yours! You have to do something!" ...

... and then one day she up and enlists in the Army ...

...well, you blink for a minute, and then you reach out and touch that idea to see what it is, and then a deep and flooding peace overtakes the ache and your tears are tears of relief. You say thank you - for whatever this turns out to be. You know this is the answer you had been asking for even before you knew its name.

And then, if she has days of agonizing self-doubt and grueling hard work and confusing disillusionments and heroic overcoming, you pray again. You pray some more. The knot of agony is gone now, and you can rest, but you cannot be there for her. You know God can see her through this. (Could You remind her to go to church too?) Mostly, the prayers are thank you.

Thank you that she grew to be someone who felt such a sense of honor and duty that she found a way to serve. Thank you that she is making herself complete the task, and not just complete it but declare the real task to learn "to be nice" when no one else is interested in just being nice. Thank you that she's that gutsy. Thank you.

And then she tells you that the scuttlebutt is that the members of the company are being assigned for immediate deployment to Iraq. ("Are you worried?" "No! It's cool!") And so you pray some more worried prayers. And you carefully step around that place in your brain where the visions are. If you let them touch you, they will not let you sleep at night.

Please - whatever comes - just give her what she needs so that she can do what she needs to do. "From all evils that assault" both body and mind. Please. Please. And thank you for her willingness. She serves, and she knows why she serves, and she knows whom she serves, and she's not blindly blithely obeying an authority she thinks is always right. She knows what she's doing. Thank you. It's not whether we live or die - it's why. She knows this. Thank you.

And then she calls again. "I got Fort Lewis!"


Not Iraq?

Not the other side of this continent or the other side of the world?

Stationed here? Here in our state?

I am praying again.


Universal Charlotte

Shortly before the end of our homeschooling years, I discovered the teachings of the British educator Charlotte Mason. Here's en.Wikipedia's synopsis - it's a good one.

Charlotte's philosophy of education is probably best summarized by eighteen principles given at the beginning of each book mentioned above. Two key mottos taken from those principles are "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" and "Education is the science of relations." She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. Her motto for students was "I am, I can, I ought, I will."

Now, the incomparable Miss Mason and I could easily attend church together (if you leave out the fact that she departed this life in 1923 ... that does make it a bit more difficult) because she and I share the same expression of the Christian faith - a traditionally Anglican one. But her ideas about children, and the way they develop, and what they are and what adults ought to do because of what children are ... these ideas are so universally solid and the results of teaching within her philosophy are so universally wonderful in the formation of minds and souls that my Anglicanism didn't do much to divide me from the Roman Catholics discussing Charlotte Mason in home education over at Catholic Charlotte Mason, which morphed into 4RealLearning.com while I wasn't looking. The book spawned by all these discussions and the passionate and compassionate writing of Elizabeth Foss is called Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home. I have a treasured signed copy of this lovely tome.

Okay ... so religiously unaffiliated people like over there at Ambleside Online, and Anglicans like the people at Charlotte's Daughters, and Roman Catholics like those at 4 Real Learning ... that's a pretty diverse population. But now I find that there's a wonderful discussion of Charlotte Mason's ideas from the point of view of the Eastern Orthodox as well! She calls her blog "Life in the Onion Dome," which is pretty funny to start with, and she's quite interesting to read.

I wonder if the diligent Miss Mason had any idea at all that so many many moms would find her ideas to be so rewarding and satisfying and universally adaptive. But I doubt it. She was just trying to get her job done.

Generosity is healthy

Brooke Astor, the white-gloved doyenne of New York society who gave away almost $200 million to feed the city's poor and nourish its cultural life, has died. She was 105.

She died today at her weekend estate in Briarcliff Manor, New York, according to the New York Times, which cited Kenneth E. Warner, a lawyer for Astor's son, Anthony D. Marshall.

She was the last of the American branch of the Astors, a family whose financial and social prestige was once synonymous with the wealth and power of the Rockefellers and the Morgans. The family's holdings at various times included the St. Regis Hotel, the Empire State Building's site and Newsweek magazine. One of the Astors died on the Titanic.

Brooke Astor (March 30, 1902 - August 13, 2007) was an American socialite and philanthropist who was the chairwoman of the Vincent Astor Foundation, which had been established by her third husband. She was also a novelist and wrote two volumes of memoirs.


.... and a hamsteak

Re: the post immediately preceding this one, one thing I got when I got more in common with historic Christianity is the entirely of the Apocrypha. And in the Apocrypha, there is this story, copied here from my enjoyable "Art of the Day" widget on my iGoogle homepage:

Tobit, who recently had lost his sight, has just endured the anger of his wife Anna after he had accused her of stealing the goat. In his dispair he thinks it is all because of his sins and those of his ancestors. Here he prays for an end to his suffering: "command my spirit to be taken from me, that I may be dissolved, and become earth: for it is profitable for me to die rather than to live [..]". Anna looks on, completely surprised by the old man's prayers.

Rembrandt was hardly twenty years old when he painted this small but impressive panel.


The Lady comes

Ssshhhh....! Do you hear her? She whispers at the edge of the breeze that blows the summer sun across your hair, and she breathes quietly from up in the forest where the huckleberries are ripening. You have to listen, but you can hear her for sure. There is a different sound in the way the forest floor crackles when she is near. The light changes, and the twilights begin to hint at a very specific peachy sort of glow. That always happens when she is beginning to come near enough to touch.

I do love her. I found a character sketch of her in the book my husband bought me for my birthday in the brighter, sharper light of July. The child in The Valley of Song hears the sounds and realizes that "there was music in this valley, but not of bird song and falling streams as in Tabitha's valley. Here the music was of the waves breaking along the shore, the sea wind rustling in the silver leaves of the olive trees, and a strange wild haunting melody that was like nothing Tabitha had heard before. Had she ever heard a harp played she would have been reminded of that, yet it was not harp music. It was lament and triumph in one. It was a wild desire to be gone and the sorrow of parting. It was an autumnal song. It was weeping and laughter. It was darkness and light and being born."

I brought home some of the huckleberries from the higher elevations of the forest today, and tomorrow, for the second Saturday in a row, we'll have them in pancakes because that seems to bring out their flavor like nearly nothing else. Tomorrow in the morning, I will breathe the breath that whispers in anticipation. She is nearly here. She is nearly here.

And in the meantime, to touch and handle while we wait, there are the brambles and brambles and brambles of blackberries. The stickery stems by the driveway are ripe first. Perhaps they get more sun in that place. In the space of about a half an hour, I had eight cups of sticky, bursting berries in my container - and several scratches and bloody places on my hand and arm. You have to fight for blackberries.

But I don't mind. I know that the cobbler with cream is what we eat when the slow and calm descent of the lady autumn has begun. I saw where she'd brushed past the vine maples and turned them the color of wine up in the woods today. I saw the reddening rusty color of the huckleberry stems and I heard the sound of her voice far away up the mountains of the forest. This is the time of year when I find myself holding my breath in anticipation and have to stop to think just why. She is coming. She is coming. And she is beautiful.

Why it worked, and what it couldn't do

As a continuation of yesterday's memory lane jaunt, here are a few more thoughts.

I never intended to homeschool my kids ... until the summer before we started. Schooling at home seemed to me to be a kind of cop out. It seemed like an unwillingness to cope with reality - a way to hide from the world. But I thought that because of the homeschoolers I'd listened to. They were hiding. And it isn't fair to keep your kids home with you because you're the one who's scared of the big bad world in which you don't feel ready to participate.

Then my kids started getting the short end of the educational stick, and I couldn't sit by and watch. So I brought them home, and had no idea what I was doing, but thought to myself, "How hard can it be? I've been teaching in classrooms practically my whole life. I know how to teach."

Yeah right.

The difference between classroom teaching and teaching your own kids at home is the difference between rows of sneeze guards hovering over rows of generic, bland (often brightly colored) cafeteria food, and cheerful homemade soup with equally cheerful and hearty homemade bread served at the kitchen table with honey and butter. It's the difference between a degree in animal husbandry and having a pet of your own. Admittedly, some stuff is the same, but so much of it isn't that they often seem like altogether separate things.

So I had to learn things like trading in a schedule for a weekly rhythm of activities. I had to learn the truth of Charlotte Mason's sparklingly clear illustration about the study of trees - it's better to touch and handle and bring indoors pieces of actual real trees than to look at pictures in a book or make representations from paper. If you want to study trees, find a tree. And if you want to teach "life skills," fold the clothes and make the beds and set the table. If you want to gain a literary mind, don't do book reports ... read books that are worth reading, and then allow large, open, seemingly endless spaces of time for the imagination to work. (And supply blankets and sheets and dining chairs for the building of things like castles and forts and zoos.)

I also had to learn that it's possible to learn math while wearing pajamas.

I had a lot to learn.

Now, the youngest of the three is nearly nineteen years old. They've gotten old enough for the occasional feedback of a random comment to float by my ears, and apparently I still have a lot to learn. Mostly, the thing I need to remember now is that I never really had any control over what my kids would remember about their childhoods. One very interesting evidence of this is the various answers to "do you remember?" when it comes to books we read. There's no connection between the ages in which they heard or read the books and what they remember. There's little rhyme or reason to the genres they remember. It appears almost completely random.

So I'm glad we chose good ones. And I'm glad we had just enough "junk" around for comparison's sake. Books bought in desperation at grocery stores at 4:00 in the cranky afternoon. Books given to us by people who wanted to clear their own shelves. Books that came free with purchase. A few videos too. We most certainly did not have a pristine or sterile environment. Some of that stuff was just plain awful. There is, for instance, no earthly use for a "Christian Mother Goose" or dumbed down versions of Mark Twain. And the person who thought children's brains would be entertained by "Let's Talk About Pouting" needs to be sent to daycare for a time out.

The thing about kids, though, is that if you get them accustomed to the food proper to the developing mind, and if you allow them to form their own connections, and if you give them real ideas and not a rarefied child's world in which to grow up ... they do. If you allow them to have pretend and fantasy and imaginative freedom, they use it. In fact, I have begun to suspect that without the artistry of imagination, there is no soul's iconography. There is no window into the unseen and unseeable. We humans need this.

Kids who develop and form connections and wrestle real ideas are kids who learn to ignore the junk because they learn to tell the difference. (And by the way, if you're homeschooling, I want you to know - stepping in and calling things "junk" out loud, to your kids, is the opposite of helping. The kid is in fact highly likely to adopt that bound piece of junk and defend every page of it forever if you're the one who rejected it. Give your kid some credit for being a developing human, and allow the process to happen over time. Trust me on this one.)

And that's why I think our homeschooling worked. I think it worked because ultimately, it gave:

**a habit of relationships to God, to the people and things in the big wide world, and to ideas,

**the skill of picking and choosing,

**ownership over one's own self.

I've seen the fearful homeschooler, and the hiding homeschooler, and their attempts to create Heaven on earth in a perfection of "holiness" or "academic purity" or whatever else they think they can control ... well, that doesn't work.

I have a suspicion that it never can. Humans aren't meant to be plow oxen, trained never to want to stray from the job assigned. Humans are essentially creative, and there's no getting around it. Go ahead and wish with all your might that winter doesn't exist, heat your house to tropical temperatures when it's cold outside if you want to, and refuse to buy or wear anything but a bikini ... but one day your kids will open the door and figure out that they've been lied to. After that, the kid who decides to embrace the snow may never eat another raw papaya again, even if papayas are good for him.

Ultimately, for us, the purpose of raising kids is to get new humans ready to take their own places in the world. And for us, schooling our kids at home was the most practical way to get the job done. We didn't keep them here with us because we preferred having them around all the time (although we liked that ... usually), and we didn't keep them here because we thought the world was an essentially evil place (but we did think that conventional education mostly makes cooperative standers-in-line and form-filler-outers, and we think there's more to life than that.)

Home schooling didn't give us days of unmarred Paradise. But it did give us three new adults in the world who live for more than themselves, who are unafraid to try new things and question convention while respecting tradition, and who sometimes say things like, "Remember that book? Yes, I remember that book! Scenes from that book are in my dreams sometimes!"


Time to Remember

This (click on the word "this") is the first thing I've read from a current homeschooler that actually makes me nostalgic for the old days. Most of her choices are what I used, for one thing. But mostly, her way of thinking about her kids and their education and what it is to be a group of people learning together, and comfortably reading a story ... well, it feels nostalgic to me.

And it sounds more idyllic than it turns out to be, but could never sound as profoundly formational as it turns out to be. I wondered if it would be true - so many days it felt like a long and laborious exercise in futility. But now, years later, I don't regret a single hour of it. It's nice - like flipping through a photo album and remembering the good stuff.


Follow the proverbs

What if someone bad gives you something good?

Or worse, and more confusing, what if someone good gives you something bad?

We have a lot of proverbs and sayings that talk about this dilemma. "Don't shoot the messenger." "Don't judge a book by its cover." "Never look a gift horse in the mouth." But we do shoot messengers who say stuff we don't want to hear. And we pick up books with attractive covers, and we inspect the quality of the things given to us and we do judge the giver by what we find. That's why the conversation between Jane Bennett and the formidable Miss Bingley rings true. Miss Bingley is trying to convey something Jane very much needs to hear, but Jane can't hear because Jane despises Miss Bingley.

It has become more and more apparent to me that the difference between childish and grownup is the difference between an ability vs. an inability to separate things. Jane needed to know that the truth can come in pleasant and unpleasant packages. So can lies. This is a matter of growing up. Children can't tell the difference between safe and unsafe situations, and so they're not supposed to "take candy from strangers."

But when you grow up, you can start to assume certain things - like, for instance, the candy samples at the VanDuyn's Chocolates store are safe. (I mean, the candies aren't likely to drug you or entice you to go home with the person handing them out. They're not so safe as a steady diet.)

Okay, so what needs to be separated out when you hear - when I hear - again - for the forty-eleven-thousandth time that I'm "hard to get along with"? I have heard this again. Yesterday. And all at once I'm fifteen years old, and some friend is pissed off because I won't sneak off to the movies without asking my parents first. Or a teacher who didn't understand the question and doesn't know the answer is getting really irritated and embarrassed because I keep trying to rephrase it because I really want an answer.

But I'm not a kid anymore. I need to get past this reaction, and I need to keep growing up. It doesn't matter who said it if it's true. But ... who said it can give me a hint sometimes.

There are more sayings and proverbs about this situation. "Consider the source" is one of them. And I love this one: "What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than it does about Paul." In this instance, I know Peter. This time, Peter's a person who is easily frightened by anyone who stands her ground on anything anytime anywhere. She saw me do it once, and I will probably always be "hard to get along with" because of that. Those are her lenses, and that's her report.

Okay, fine. That's who she is. And Miss Bingley was an obnoxious elitist snob. But she was telling the truth. So I still wonder about me. Does what Peter said say anything about Paul? Is it always true that "where there's smoke there's fire"? Maybe not always - but sometimes that is true. And the recurring, ever-present accusation of being "hard to get along with" is something that sticks to me like a burr - surely there's fire in there somewhere. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing something else? Is this Peter a bad person giving me something good (an honest evaluation of a real situation), or is she a good person giving me something bad (her own fears)?

Since hearing this summary judgment (again) I've been trying to separate all of the parts into their truths and falsehoods.

And now I'm old enough to know the answer to the nagging questions. The answer to all the "should I change?" and "am I doing something wrong?" questions is almost never the simple yes or no!! (This would have been a shock to my younger self.) And that's how you untangle the strands of this rope that tries to hang you. When people say the same thing about you for years and years, and you want to get to the truth of it, you find out that the answer to all the "should I?" questions is: "it depends on what you want."

Two Rules of the Universe I have learned:

1. Everything costs something. (Or, as Sesame Street's jubilant song sings it, "You gotta put down the ducky if you wanna play the saxophone.")

and, 2. No man can serve two masters. Ever. And you know who your real master is by what you choose to serve. (Great movie line from The Devil Wears Prada: "You know, in case you were wondering - the person whose calls you always take? That's the relationship you're in.")

So you gotta pick. What are you willing to spend for what you're buying, and who are you really serving? This time, what did Peter see me buy? In all honesty, I have to realize the truth. I was buying the right treatment of children.

I'm fairly single-minded and bull-headed about this issue. I will not stand by while children are mistreated. Period. I don't care who it is, or what position they hold, or how much power they're supposed to have, or anything else. If you're proving how tough you are by being horrid to a child - especially if you're messing with that child's access to God - I will stand in your way. And you won't like it much. Years of practice have taught me a lot. Since that's what Peter saw, that's what Peter's reacting to. And Peter's a scared old woman who has oddball attachments to authority figures. Thus, in that context, I'm hard to get along with. I decided that the possible fallout on my own head was worth it. I put down the ducky of approval, and I calmly and deliberately played the music of the powerful song "How Dare You."

Okay, but is there really something in there? C'mon, little miss hero of your own story, be honest. Other people simply don't have this problem. I can think of lots of people who never get it said about them that they're hard to get along with. Think. Just think about it. Who's easy to get along with?




Can I count on those people? When it really matters, and something is at stake? Is the acclamation "easy to get along with" the final master to serve?

So here I am again. I'm back where I started to get to this place, and I do now choose it all over again.

I'm nice -- but don't bully the children. I can get real hard to get along with.