Sunday, November 20, 2016

Living & Learning Update # 5: Books, exams, more books


Don't tell anyone, but I think I might be in trouble with my husband for using the word "minimalism" and "books" in the same sentence. I might have him a bit worried... he would be quite happy if every book that came into this house would never, ever leave. I tried to relieve his mind last week by buying four new bookcases and eagerly attending a library used book sale. Seriously, though, despite our growing collection of books, I am still comfortable using the word "minimalism" in connection with books. To me, minimalism is about keeping the things we truly value and getting rid of the excess. That is what I intentionally try to do with our books. Some might not understand how people like us could possibly value so many books so very highly, but we truly do. The thing that makes me a minimalist despite this is that I am intentional about evaluating each book that we keep. He feels a little more comfortable with the term "curated collection" so maybe I'll just go with that instead of "minimalism," at least in his hearing...


We finished Term 1 of our Ambleside Online years 3 and 1 this week. I haven't counted, but it took a bit longer than twelve weeks. We'll take this coming week off, with the exception of an exam question at breakfast every morning.

I asked SA(8) an exam question this week about "When Mary visited Elizabeth." I got only silence until he finally confessed that he was confused about whether I was asking about the Bible or Our Island Story (Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots)!

We finished The Princess and the Goblin on Friday. We had a bit of a rough start with it at the beginning of the term. I was having SA read it on his own, and he found it hard to narrate. Then halfway through I decided I'd read aloud to him, and I think he fell in love with it. In any case, he picked up the sequel The Princess and Curdie and has been reading non-stop since yesterday. He had only two chapters left to go this evening. This makes me very happy, because it is still very rare for him to pick up a chapter book and just read. He may turn into a bookworm yet! (JJ, on the other hand, is already a bookworm.)


I'm reading Caddie Woodlawn and Robin Hood with the boys at bedtime. SA and JJ rush to get ready so they can be the first to put their vote in as to what we will read. MM(4) has figured out that if he's last he can be the tie-breaker, though, so he takes his time!

I'm reading Side by Side by Ed Welch, a book about how we need the Lord, and how we need each other. I'm also deep into the Iliad again in preparation for my study group, and I've begun reading Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators, spurred on by Brandy at Afterthoughts blog. I also have a novel on the go: A Severed Wasp by Madeleine L'Engle. It's the second book I've read by L'Engle. The first I read was the fourth volume of her Crosswicks Journals. I'm starting on the opposite end than most people do with L'Engle (she is well known for her children's literature) but I am really enjoying these mature works. I will get to the children's books too someday.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Living & Learning Update #4: Flat Stanley, Shoeboxes, Scheduling App


SA(8) had a cousin from Saskatchewan send him a Flat Stanley. On Tuesday we went out and took a couple of pictures at Peake's Quay (where the Fathers of Confederation landed) and Province House (where the Fathers of Confederation met and Canada was born.). The tiny figure on the step is SA, holding Flat Stanley.

Yesterday SA(8), JJ(6), niece I(9) and I went to the Operation Christmas Child packing party at our church. In the last few years we've just packed our own boxes, but the party was great fun! 82 boxes were packed in just over an hour.


This week was much nicer weather than last for our #FallOutside2016 nature challenge! We are trying to get outside every day for at least 15 minutes this month. This week started out gorgeous. On Wednesday we even had lessons outside because it was so warm... it actually went up to 13 degrees (about 55 Farenheit)! We stayed outside almost all day that day. We didn't get all the schoolwork done, but it will probably be June before it's that nice again and we wanted to enjoy it.

MM(4) has been very earnest lately about trying things on the piano. He looks very carefully at his brother's piano book and tries to figure it out with his fingers on the keys. Afterwards he comes to me and asks if I heard him playing.

In other news, I have discovered a lovely app for my iPhone called 30/30. It seems perfect for scheduling Charlotte Mason-style short lessons. I put in my "Daily List" of lessons we do together as a family. For each item on the list I can add a specific period of time. When the timer rings, our lesson is over and it goes on to the next item (I have it pause at that point until we're set to go with our next lesson.) So far it has worked really well to keep us on track. Because that list is quite similar for us every day, I just make minor adjustments to the list each evening. This may even end up replacing my paper and pen daily checklist!

I have lists for each child for the work they do separately as well. That works a little less well because they work at different things at the same time. (SA does copywork while I read to JJ, for example). I may figure out how to make it work yet, though.

Has anyone else tried this app for homeschooling to-do lists?


In light reading, I read Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires this week. I loved it. She was the New York Times restaurant critic for a while and this book is about her various disguises as she did that.

In slightly heavier reading, I started Kathleen Norris' Acedia & Me. It seems very promising. I read her Amazing Grace earlier this year and found it very thought provoking and worth reading, though I come from a very different background and disagree with some foundational things she seems to take for granted.

With the boys I started Caddie Woodlawn for their bedtime reading.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Living & Learning Update # 3: Origami, Fall Outside Nature Challenge


I have been greeted by this sight every morning for the last several weeks. SA(8) and JJ(6) are obsessed with origami. Earlier this fall at a yard sale I found what I thought was a package of origami paper for a dollar. This origami paper turned out to have folding instructions on the back of each page. The boys have been making their own square "origami paper" by cutting printer paper, and have been making many of the designs.

I am amazed at how skilled they have become. We did origami as our "handicraft" last year at some point, and it was very difficult for them at first. Now they are doing quite complex folds, making paper tulips and elephants and cranes. They have definitely left me behind! (This is making me feel better about myself, since I am failing to teach them a handicraft this term.) I must say, though, that the mess they create is terrible, especially since their instructions are loose-leaf and not in a book.

Fall Outside 2016 Nature Challenge
This "adventure" is put on by Dawn from Mud Puddles to Meteors. The challenge is to get outside in nature for 15 minutes every day of  this month. November can be so cold and grey (and it was, this week!)! I knew I needed the kick in the pants to get the children out every day. There was quite a bit of foot-dragging at the beginning of the week, but by the end the boys were getting used to the cold again and enjoying being out in nature. On Thursday we lit a little bonfire, and that was a huge hit. They stayed out for a couple of hours that day.

 We are also doing some little drawings on a calendar to chronicle our month with nature. I love MM(4)'s poplar leaf!

Here is my youngest book lover AJ "reading" The Gingerbread Man. His favourite book, though, is One Summer Day by Kim Lewis. It has a little boy of about his size who, like him, plays peekaboo, and likes to get his shoes and coat on to go outside.

In other reading news, I finished reading William Steig's Newberry Honor book Abel's Island aloud to the bigger boys. They loved it, and the pictures really enhanced the story for them. I enjoyed it, but I did find Abel a bit eccentric at times, and the story ended rather abruptly. William Steig is an interesting author. I don't like all of his children's books, and I don't find his art all that charming (children like it, though), but he has a few books I absolutely love. Amos and Boris definitely goes into my top 10 picture books of all time. Another one I love is called Yellow & Pink, which is a quirky parable about intelligent design.

In my own reading, I am almost through Elizabeth Goudge's Scent of Water. I am enjoying it, but not as much as I had hoped. My expectations were too high, and the deficiency is in myself. I can only explain the problem in MBTI terms. I am not "iNtuitive" enough for this book. As an ISFJ, I have put some thought into how I interact with other types. The "N" types are the ones most likely to mystify me. As in this case, this is usually in a good way (I stand in awe of the way someone sees the world and communicates about it.), but sometimes it is in a not so good way (I am completely mystified by the way someone thinks...they seem to be ungrounded in reality.) I think Elizabeth Goudge is an "NF" type. Her writing is very evocative. She does put a lot of sensory detail in her novels, but it is all about the feeling her description creates in you. Any attempt to recreate the scene (whether in a movie or in real life) would be disappointing, because it's not about the details, it's about the atmosphere. Does that make sense? Any other "S" types out there that get what I'm saying here, or does this sound crazy to you? The feelings I get as I read are lovely but nebulous, and they drift away from me. The truth that comes through sometimes in this novel is beautiful but almost always startling to me, as it seems to burst forth out of almost nothing (there is no logic, no natural progression to it). I'm not at all saying I didn't like the book, just that I didn't feel quite at home in it.

I should say that I think most of the best novel writers are "N" types, and very few of them make me feel like outsiders in the worlds they create. Marilyn Robinson is another very strongly intuitive type, and I think her books are wonderful. I am not like her Lila, but I love her and stand in awe. Even L.M. Montgomery, who speaks so much of kindred spirits, does not make me feel as though I am not one. (After all, she lets Diana Barry be one, and Diana does not "get" Anne all the time either.) Elizabeth Goudge creates a sympathetic world between her intuitive type kindred spirits --Mary, Edith, Paul-- and the ordinary people really don't matter all that much in her world. Perhaps this is why Goudge is so very loved...all the "N" type readers feel like the characters are kindred spirits, and her way of thinking and imagining feels like home.

So end my jumbled musings...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Minimalism for Homeschooling Book Lovers

Is there such a thing?

I have been reading about minimalism for a while now, but I have never found a good article or book on minimalism that directly addresses the kind of book lovers that we are in my family.

We love books. They are not merely entertainment for us. We homeschool, not using textbooks, but real, living books. We already have many books, but with our oldest child only in grade three we still have many future years of homeschooling to collect books for. It is quite possible we will never be quite done. When the kids leave home, we'll have more time for reading ourselves, right?

However. All these books must have a home.

Our home is not large. We have eleven bookcases, each with four shelves: four in the boys' room (categories: children's fiction, children's nonfiction, adult fiction, biographies, poetry), four in our bedroom (categories: theology, other nonfiction), and three downstairs (categories: school books up to grade 5, current school books, Canadian books, music and art books). That doesn't include the picture books in plastic bins for the little children's easy reach. We already have too many books for our shelves, and are keeping some in boxes.

I am attracted to minimalism, and working towards it in the areas of my home that I have control over. At the same time, I know that our book collection will continue to grow. Books are what spark joy around here. They are also the tools of my trade (homeschooling), and will be for some time to come.

Here are some ideas if you are like me.

1. Only keep books that spark joy.
This concept is borrowed from Marie Kondo. I know, I know, the section of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up dealing with books probably horrified you to your core, and no wonder.
And yet... it has been very helpful for me to ask of every book on my shelves, "Does this particular book spark joy?" Since I am quite selective about books anyway, most of the books on my shelves did indeed spark joy. Still, by removing the few that didn't, I really concentrated the joy. My bookshelves really, really make me happy now.

If, like me, you are into Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, you could also ask, "Is this a living book?" If it is not, it generally can go. There is no need to keep mediocre books when there are so many excellent ones out there!

This also means getting rid of the "What if I will need it some day?" books. For example, I had some books on great artists. They were not living books. They were not even beautiful (a lot of black and white prints of paintings). I thought I wanted to keep them as references for when we did picture study in our homeschool. And yet, when we studied one of the artists in those books, I did not pull it out. I got a variety of books from the library instead. I realized that this was likely to be a pattern, and I truly did not need these books. It took me a long time, but eventually I did let them go. I have other art books that I am keeping because they are beautiful and bring me joy. If you are saying to yourself, "It's not a living book, but what if I need it some day?" Let it go and make space in your life for more living books.

2. Get rid of duplicates.
We have a lot of classic children's literature. That kind of literature is the very kind that people like us "don't mind having more than one of." However, that kind of literature is often easily replaceable (even used, cheap) if you ever do need another copy. In the meantime, where space is finite, getting rid of duplicates frees up space for more titles. Of course, there will be exceptions, such as different translations to compare, or favourite vintage titles that are hard to get and must be passed down to several children.

3. Organize your books.
Until your books are organized, you will not realize how many duplicates you have, and you will not be able to find what you need when you need it. My books are organized by category, and by author within each category. If I accidentally buy a duplicate, I notice immediately when I am putting it away. I am working on putting our books into libib, a lovely cataloguing website and app, but I'm not sure I will ever be done... this takes time!

4. Accept that some books have their seasons.
There will be a time when I will no longer need my early reading books. I will probably keep a few of my favourites (Frog and Toad!), but at some point most of them will be passed on to someone who needs them. Some day I will be finished homeschooling, and while it is probable that by then many of our school books will be such favourites that I will never part with them, others will be able to be culled.

5. Keep only the books that reflect the kind of "book person" you actually are, not the one you want to see yourself as.
This is one I'm struggling with. I have several vintage books. I have had them for ten years now, have never read them, and never will. I might like to think of myself as a collector of vintage books, but really, I'm not. I buy and will continue to buy vintage books that we will actually read. I personally do not keep books just to look pretty on my shelf. That's not the kind of "book person" I am. Realizing this might help me to let these books go. We'll see... they're not gone yet!

Be careful, though. If I had been following this principle two years ago, I could have gotten rid of a lot of my adult literature (hypothetically speaking, in case my husband is reading this...). I could have thought to myself that my husband and I don't really read anymore. It was true, there were several years when we didn't read much. But now I'm back into reading again. It was just a really busy time of babies and diapers and beginning homeschooling. If this is you, ask yourself, "Am I really not a book person, or am I just in a stage of life that makes it difficult to read?"

6. Always have enough shelves for your books, and keep no more books than fit on your shelves.
This is a rule I aspire to, but do not follow right now. I have three large boxes of books that do not fit on my shelves. But it's what I'm working towards. In this case, the solution will have to be to build more shelves.

7. Accept the process.
To quote Sarah MacKenzie, I have made the decision to "build [my] family culture around books." In doing so, I am accepting the work it takes to curate and maintain a collection that reflects what we love and who we are as a family. I am accepting the tension created by limited space, and that books we like will have to make their way out to make room for books we love. This is hard work, but it's work that I must accept if I want to have and keep the books we love. If ever I am not willing to accept responsibility for taking care of these books, it will be time to let them go.

What about you? Do you see minimalism and book collecting as competing goals? What ideas have helped you as your book collection grows?

Edited to add some pictures of my "children's fiction" section, because I know you like looking at other peoples' bookshelves. :) You're welcome.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Living & Learning Update # 2: Moss Nature Walk, Learning Styles

The week started out with Stephen and all the boys sick. Wednesday I thought they were all well enough to start working on our lessons again. Now they are all full of energy!

My sister saw my links about decluttering last week and asked if I'd like to join her for a decluttering challenge. She is going to get rid of one thing a day, and I am trying to get rid of a box or bag a day. In real life, it is going a little slower than that for me...I just have a box on top of my fridge and I pop three or four things into it every day. It feels so good to get these things out of the house!

I am also working on reorganizing my books...a constant challenge for me, mostly because I keep acquiring more. (Yes, I do know I have competing goals here as I declutter stuff with one hand, and take in more books with the other! I am still working on reconciling those goals in my mind and my home. When I do, I'll write a post about it for you.) I now officially have too many books for my shelf space, so I have boxed up all my biographies and my poetry to await the day when my husband will make some more shelves.

After a week of sickness, it was good to get out for a nature walk on Thursday. We went to Reardon's Pond, which is only a three-minute drive from our house. As we walked along the trail to the pond, we noticed a clearing in the woods that almost seemed to glow. We broke through the brush and found ourselves in an almost magical place. The ground inside that circle between the trees was thickly carpeted with light green moss. It felt springy under our feet, and I put my finger in it to measure how deep it was --about 4 inches! There were a few decomposing fallen trees in the circle, but all of them were under the same carpet of moss. There were several varieties of mosses and lichens, and I want to go back to put them in my nature journal. My nature journal is sadly neglected right now because the AJ(1) will never let go of me in any unfamiliar place!

Today I started reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I am afraid it's going to be a tough slog for me. A friend put several of Eldredge's books into our hands and highly recommended them, so I feel I must give this book a chance and read it deeply enough to interact intelligently about it. As of page 9 it is not promising...

My book club had our Till We Have Faces meeting this week. I thought our discussion was the best yet, even though I can't profess to have understood the book well (I will definitely read it again!). It had so many ideas to chew on, so many "this reminds me of that" moments. Next up: The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. I have read one book before by Goudge and did not love it (The Heart of the Family). However, I've since discovered on Goodreads that this book is not generally a favourite among Goudge lovers so I probably should not have started with it. It was just what my library had available at the time. Time to try this author again.

Learning Styles are Bunk (Podcast) by Brandy Vencel and Pam Barnhill
Before you turn away because you just know that you personally have a learning style and so do your children, let me assure you that they do not deny that you probably have a learning preference. The point is that you do your children a disservice when you cater exclusively to their learning preferences. This really rang true to me.

My learning preferences are ones that work well in school: reading and listening to lectures. My greatest weakness is visualizing, seeing things in my mind's eye. Of course, my education catered to my learning preferences. Before I started using Charlotte Mason's methods to teach my children, I had never been challenged to use other ways of learning. I didn't even realize until a few years ago that other people often have a better ability to visualize things than I do. Now that I've done some picture study with my children, I realize that this is because this way of learning has never been developed in me. If I had done picture study as a child, my ability to visualize would be better now. I know this because it is improving now. When we study a picture, I can actually recall it visually --not perfectly, but still as a picture. Maybe you'd have to be me to know how miraculous this seems to me. It is never too late, but it does tend to seem easier to learn these things when you are young.

What did you think of this podcast?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Living & Learning Update #1: A New Weekly Newsletter

I've been very quiet on the blog lately. I need to ease back into it, and what better way than with a weekly newsletter?

Monday was Thanksgiving Day, and it was an interesting one! We were going to go to my in-laws for dinner, but they lost power (Thankfully the turkey was done cooking!). We hadn't left home yet, and I invited them all over here. This would normally have been no problem, except that Stephen was working on putting in a door in the living/dining room, and it was cold, wet, and windy in there. (The picture is from a couple of days before, when the weather was still warm.) So I laid out all the food in the kitchen, and then we all traipsed upstairs and ate in the bedrooms where it was warm. Our power went out too, but not until the evening.

Wednesday morning MM(4) fell down the stairs and pulled a muscle in his neck. He ended up lying on the couch for two and a half days straight. Since he wasn't sick, that meant crankiness!

Wednesday evening SA(8) came down with a nasty bug. Since then the other boys have also gotten sick, though they just seem to have a bad cold.

Needless to say, with all that sickness, our lessons went down the drain this week. SA(8) and I did get to go to our French class on Tuesday afternoon. I am so pleased with this class! The main benefit to us is that the children are learning from a teacher whose native language is French. There are seven homeschooled children in the class, mostly around 8-10 years old. The class runs from 3-5 PM. I must admit that I worried a little about taking my son who is used to Charlotte Mason style short lessons to a two-hour class. My fears were groundless. The teacher switches activities often enough that no one loses attention. There is also a break in the middle. This week they learned numbers from 1-20, played hangman to reinforce the alphabet in French, and learned the conjugation of "avoir," using it in sentences.

We are still reading through Robin Hood at bedtime (When AO Year 2 ended, I decided to finish the book as a bedtime read-aloud). We also read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in the last two weeks. It was good, silly fun. While all the boys are there at our bedtime story time, I often read a chapter from one storybook for the little ones first, and then another for the older ones.

My own reading has sadly dropped off a little since our school year started...I think too much mental energy was being expended. However, I have managed to keep up with the Iliad for my study group, and Till We Have Faces for my book club. I love both groups...both are for homeschooling moms who are interested in self-education. I don't make friends easily, and these groups who share common interests are a pure joy to me.

While I was out and about for groceries this week, I stopped at our local library for their used book sale. I found a hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings series at $1 per volume! I also found a beautiful edition of Arabian Nights (this one), also for $1.

Some things I've been thinking about lately...

How Getting Rid of 'Stuff' Saved My Motherhood by Allie Cassazza
I handed this to my husband after I read it. I hadn't realized that this being stressed because of too much stuff is a real "thing" for women. I've gotten rid of ten boxes of stuff since I read this a month ago. Not that anyone can tell yet. I just keep on keeping on...

The Joy of Less: 4 Decluttering Epiphanies that have Changed my Life by Michele Connolly
I really liked number 3.

Anchoring: An Organizational Tool by Renee Tougas
This post changed my life several years ago, and I still live by it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Daily Planning Routine

I've mentioned my "average day" schedule before. Now that I'm in the swing of things this school year, I'd like to share what I do every day to keep things going smoothly.

I have a clipboard full of plain lined paper.
Every evening I look at my schedule, I look at my Ambleside Online charts, and I think about what else I have planned for the next day.
Then, I quickly write down a checklist of what lessons we will do together as a family, and little checklists of what lessons I will do with each child individually.

And that's all there is to it! Ten minutes, tops.

I find that if I'm ever too tired in the evening and skip this step, the next day is practically guaranteed not to go smoothly. I think it's not the list that makes the difference so much as the process of making the list. Making the list helps me mentally walk through my day before I find myself in the middle of it.