Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: The Nesting Place

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

I'm not really interested in interior decorating. We have some beautiful things we've picked up on our travels and I asked my mom or Kansas Dad to hang them for us. Nearly all of our furniture was given to us and most of what we've purchased is either used or from some superstore. Honestly, up until a year ago or so, I didn't have the mental energy to think too much about anything besides growing babies and kids.

Recently, though, I've been thinking a little more about "decorating," especially the kids' bathroom, which is also the guest bathroom. I've been slowly working on that. When I saw this book mentioned at Conversion Diary, I decided to check it out from the library. I had to wait a while for a copy, but it was worth it. I read this book a few pages at a time while driving to visit my parents for a much-enjoyed-though-not-relaxing vacation.
You don't have to get perfect to have a pretty house. Most of us simply need to learn to see the beauty in the imperfect. Because life is gloriously messy. We can find rest in our less than perfect circumstances when we figure out that no amount of striving can create the perfect life we think we are looking for.
The book was wonderful. It's not about decorating as much as it is about allowing yourself to create beauty in your surroundings, with whatever you have. Even as I read through the book and thought to myself, "I don't think I'd like that living room for our family," I was thinking about what we could do around the house - and came up with lots of ideas! (And only one of them will require safety goggles and masks.)

Her advice on husbands was fabulous, too, and applicable on a wide range of topics (not just decorating or home improvement).
I've found, though, that often we ask our husbands for advice when we are unsure of what to do. Then we blame them if we don't like the color of the new bathroom rug, when they didn't really care what color it was in the first place. They were just answering a question that we asked out of obligation or lack of confidence. It helps to figure out what things your husband cares about and get his input on those things, and then don't bother him with the rest.
Oh how Kansas Dad must loathe the homeschool curriculum questions!

I didn't go crazy and paint the fireplace bricks and tiles bright green (though they'll probably end up painting something). I did "shop" my mom's house extensively for some interesting pieces for above our fireplace. I also wandered the house and moved some things around. I even (oh, shock!) hammered in a few nails.

There's a long list of blogs at the end of the book to seek out for decorating ideas, in addition to the author's blog: Nesting Place. I think my own decorating is done for a while as we settle into a new school year and start up all our activities (but hopefully not too long as there are quite a few frames standing on the floor just now). I'll be keeping my eye out for ideas, though!

Monday, August 11, 2014

July 2014 Book Reports

God King: A Story in the Days of King Hezekiah by Joanne Williamson will be a history read-aloud for us next year. There are a few battle scenes that might be a little scary for the girls (who will be 6 and 8) but I think they'll be alright if I talk through them. This book is excellent and I'm looking forward to reading it with the kids. (purchased copy, I believe I bought this directly from Bethlehem Books. They have great sales so if you are interested in their books request their emails or follow them on facebook.)

Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a classic. It was interesting to think about how it would have been like to read it when it was first published and contemplating what it might have to say to us today. (I don't have any great insights to share; it was just thought-provoking.) (playaway from the library)

Still Life with Dirty Dishes: poems
by Ramona McCallum is a book of poetry by a Kansas poet with young children. A great many of the poems seemed to reflect my own life and I enjoyed the book tremendously. The title poem is still my favorite. You can read it online here. (library copy, purchased after I requested it)

The Smart Martha's Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser (inter-library loan)

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton surfaced in my searches for books set in Africa for First Son to read this upcoming year. I read it myself in eighth grade but couldn't remember much of it, so I thought I'd refresh my memory even though it's not one I would ask him to read. It's heartbreakingly beautiful. I listened to most of it and loved the reader's interpretation in the the audio version. (audio CD from the library, library copy for the chapters on one of the discs which wouldn't play for me)

Burning for Revenge by John Marsden, the fifth book in the Tomorrow series, which I'm reviewing for another website. (library copy)

The Idea of a University by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman (Kansas Dad's copy from a library sale, which I managed to almost destroy)

Champion: A Legend Novel by Marie Lu is the third book in the Legend trilogy. It managed to be better than the second book and a much better ending than the Divergent series. I read this to review on another site. (library copy)

Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde was predictable, but sweet, a nice book to read over the summer. (borrowed for free from Kindle Owners' Lending Library, since replaced by Kindle Unlimited, which is not free)

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig (a review for Blogging for Books)

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson (library copy)

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres (library copy)

Books in Progress (and date started)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review: A Little Way of Homeschooling

A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres

This is Suzie Andres’s second book, building on Homeschooling with Gentleness. In the first book, she presented arguments supporting her belief that unschooling is one of many methods of homeschooling acceptable and appropriate for Catholic families and she described a little how that looked in her own family.

This book expands on the theme by presenting chapters by eight Catholic families that unschool and five Catholic families that incorporate some aspects of unschooling. Many of these families are large or deal with illness or disability, a nice complement to Suzie’s own small family of two boys so far apart that the first one was going off to college as the second one started school.

I do not have an unschooling personality. Even the thought of it makes me a little anxious. I like my year planned out in advance with readings for each day in nice neat (and very large) Excel spreadsheets. It’s good for me to read this sort of book to remind myself that planning to the exclusion of listening to my children could foster disenchantment with learning and faith. In the most extreme cases, it could damage our relationships with each other.

One of my favorite quotes is from Cindy Kelly (who writes on her blog here)
When I was a teenager and in college, I only knew one thing: how to play the game. I knew that if I got A’s and pleased professors, I would advance, and I did. I wish I had known that while it is fine to play the game, the game is not the goal. The goal is finding God’s will for me and my place in the world.
If our goal is seeking God and his will for our lives (and it is), then our homeschooling choices should point toward that goal.  To that end, I have been thinking even more carefully about what we’ll be doing next year.

One revelation I had while reading was the thought that textbooks are written to fit the traditional school year. Of course I knew that before, but I suddenly realized the math book had lessons for the whole year not because they were all appropriate for the student but because they had a certain number of days to fill. I don't want our lesson plans to be like that. So I wrote lesson plans but I will be discerning as we go whether the lessons we do each week are leading us to God or if there is something better we could be doing with our time. I have a lot of history on our schedule this year and we might spread the readings out more even if we don't finish it all. I don't have any grammar on our schedule this year, but First Son will be doing some more writing and I will try to teach him a little grammar as we go along. Or not. We'll see.

At the end, the author reminds us that the beautiful words we read are only a part of the women who wrote them:
We are just like you, wondering what in the world we will put together for dinner tonight. We are just like you, and not entirely sure of ourselves. We may write long books and thoughtful Internet posts proclaiming the goodness and freedom of unschooling; at the end of the day we still lie in bed exhausted and wonder if our children are learning what they should.
Much of the book describes following the Little Way of St. Therese and the example of St. John Bosco, a great teacher of orphan boys in the 1800s. These thoughts are most fitting for Catholics, though both of these saints have insights into human character that many non-Catholic educators would find interesting if not enlightening. For example, Don Bosco writes:
It is certainly easier to lose one’s temper than to be patient; threaten young people rather than reason with them. I would say that it better suits our lack of patience and our pride to punish those who resist us, rather than bear with them firmly and with kindness.
The booklists at the end are excellent, divided into categories on St. Therese, unschooling, Catholic homeschooling and general homeschooling, education, and more.

It was a joy to read this book and I highly recommend it. As a side note, Hillside Education did a wonderful job printing and binding this book. It's beautiful.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: The Idea of a University

The Idea of A University by Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

I spent months slowly reading this book. It was a pleasure to read, with plenty of small quips and carefully explained and defended ideas. It's the kind of book that rewards the careful reader and deserves a measured approach. I usually read only one or two sections at a time, sometimes only three pages.

As I read this book, I thought carefully about the kind of university education I want my children to have, and therefore the kind of education we should provide, the kind of environment we should create, to foster the love of learning and of the faith we desire for our children.

I'm not sure this post qualifies as a review as much as simply a statement that I finally finished the book. You can browse my quote tag for excerpts I wanted to share, but this post has my favorite.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: The Sense of Wonder

The Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, with photographs by Nick Kelsh

This book's brief text is lavishly illustrated by nature photographs. Published posthumously, it encourages the reader to step outside with young people, even very young people. For those of us who hope to infuse nature study into our homeschools, it's a short book full of inspiration.
I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused--a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love--then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.
I emphasized that last sentence. I believe it's true: that to be outside even without a guide book or any knowledge of the plants or bugs or birds, is more important that to sit inside and read about them. I'd much rather sit inside myself, though, and therefore I must fight this lethargy year after year.
The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.