Saturday, October 29, 2011

Considering Jane Austen

 I shall inflict just one more post on Jane Austen on you, the Reader. One more post, for now. Today I will be brief. Today I will ask only one question, how can you not love a person who thinks like this?

Jane wrote a letter to her sister-in-law about an upcoming visit.
I hope we shall meet next week to talk all this over, till we have tired ourselves with the very idea of my visit before my visit begins. 
I am guilty of doing this myself, before many visits with my mom or a close friend. Then Jane wrote the following. And I ask, how can you not love an author who is so humorous and witty, even in casual correspondence? I find her irresistible.

‘You distress me cruelly by your request about books.  I cannot think of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of our wanting them.  I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading; I can do that at home; and indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out on you as my share of the conversation.  I am reading Henry’s History of England, which I will repeat to you in any manner you may prefer, either in a loose, desultory, unconnected stream, or dividing my recital, as the historian divides it himself, into seven parts:—The Civil and Military: Religion: Constitution: Learning and Learned Men: Arts and Sciences: Commerce, Coins, and Shipping: and Manners.  So that for every evening in the week there will be a different subject.  The Friday’s lot—Commerce, Coins, and Shipping—you will find the least entertaining; but the next evening’s portion will make amends.  With such a provision on my part, if you will do yours by repeating the French Grammar, and Mrs. Stent will now and then ejaculate some wonder about the cocks and hens, what can we want? 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Considering Jane Austen

Bryan bought me a Kindle for my birthday. At heart I am a girl who loves books, ink printed on paper and bound, held in my own two hands. The sheer number of books in this house has grown overwhelming, and so a Kindle seemed, in some instances, like a good substitute. An especially good selling point was that so many old books are free. And I am a girl who loves old books. I downloaded the Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh, her nephew, and delighted in his memories of his aunt. The Kindle has another clever feature that allows me to clip sections of what I am reading, download them onto the computer, and share…with you.

By the time I had finished James Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir I was thoroughly confirmed in my love for Jane, and, as always, I was reading with an eye for an example to follow.

I do not venture to speak of her religious principles: that is a subject on which she herself was more inclined to think and act than to talk, and I shall imitate her reserve; satisfied to have shown how much of Christian love and humility abounded in her heart, without presuming to lay bare the roots whence those graces grew. 
She was, in fact, as ready to comfort the unhappy, or to nurse the sick, as she was to laugh and jest with the lighthearted. 
Her unusually quick sense of the ridiculous led her to play with all the common-places of everyday life, whether as regarded persons or things; but she never played with its serious duties or responsibilities, nor did she ever turn individuals into ridicule. 

You see, I have chosen a good example.

It has been said that the happiest individuals, like nations during their happiest periods, have no history.  In the case of my aunt, it was not only that her course of life was unvaried, but that her own disposition was remarkably calm and even.  There was in her nothing eccentric or angular; no ruggedness of temper; no singularity of manner; none of the morbid sensibility or exaggeration of feeling, which not unfrequently accompanies great talents, to be worked up into a picture.  Hers was a mind well balanced on a basis of good sense, sweetened by an affectionate heart, and regulated by fixed principles; so that she was to be distinguished from many other amiable and sensible women only by that peculiar genius which shines out clearly enough in her works, but of which a biographer can make little use. 

This is what I particularly love about Jane Austen, if you had known her she would have seemed so very ordinary.  When I chafe at the limits of my ordinary days, I like to remember her. A lifetime of ordinary days and a calm disposition are no impediment to greatness. I can’t aspire to literary genius but I can aspire to good sense, an affectionate heart and fixed principles, the very things that made Jane Austen’s short life so sweet while she lived her days.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Our Abiding Guest

The spirit of Christ alone will enable us to live together in perfect peace and love. The presence of Christ in the home is a perpetual benediction. We cannot be selfish, we cannot wrangle and strive, we cannot be bitter and unkind, we cannot be irritable and unreasonable, when conscious of the presence of Christ. If only we can make Christ an abiding guest in our home, and if we can keep ourselves aware of His being with us, our household life cannot help but grow wondrously sweet.
Secrets of Happy Home Life, James Russell Miller (1840-1912)

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Conversation With the Chef: The Cupboards Were Bare

We had crummies in our tummies this week at our house. Two days before I was due to go grocery shopping, the cupboards were bare. Two meals were left on my meal list: pizza and enchiladas verdes. Not exactly suitable for crummy tummies.

I challenged myself to cook without shopping, I paged through a few cook books, found nothing, and this is what we ate. I used some of the beef broth I worked so hard to prepare. I would have loved something green to put in the soup, and maybe rice noodles would have tasted better than spaghetti noodles, but we all enjoyed our dinner. I typed up all the ingredients I'd thrown together, just so I will remember, and once typed, it's so easy to share. Here's a very, very basic "Asian Inspired Carrot Soup," or Soup Suitable for Crummy Tummies (if you don't have ingredients for chicken).

1 onion, sliced
5 carrots, sliced on a diagonal
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
6 cups beef broth
1 inch handful of noodles, broken into 1 inch pieces
Soy sauce (or Tamari)
Small dash of crushed red peppers
Salt and pepper (my broth wasn't salted at all)
Fresh parsley, if you have it

            Saute onion, carrots and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add broth and bring to a boil. Then add noodles, cook until soft. Add enough soy sauce to season the soup and give it a nice dark color. Stir in parsley at the end.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Habit Formation

These days a curriculum suggestion makes my eyes roll back in my head. I'll talk books with you all day, I adore books. But curricula has worn me out. Still, I find myself watching homeschool leaders, just waiting for a resource to encourage and excite. Newly found: Simply Charlotte Mason. I downloaded the free e-book Smooth and Easy Days, read it all in two days, made notes in the margins, and picked a new habit to begin forming in my children. Did I like it? Loved it and ordered Laying Down the Rails.

I am familiar with Charlotte Mason. I've read several of her books, and books by people who've read her books. Though I won't be pinned down to any one "type" of educational philosophy, I am rather partial to Charlotte Mason. The pages of Laying Down the Rails aren't strictly new ideas, but the ideas are rearranged and pertinent quotes on one habit gathered into a few short pages. The book is motivational.

The first habit I chose to cultivate is neatness. Thinking of all those clothes on the floor and wrinkled math pages it seemed an excellent first choice. I'm afraid we have rather a hard uphill climb. We fell off the wagon after the first few days. Really, thirty or so days of such concentrated effort is tiring. Then I read all that Sonya Schafer included under that sub-section, and realized I myself have a good bit of work to do.

The idea of habit has suddenly pervaded our days. Kara and I sat down to spelling last week. I had an epiphany, we had fallen into a habit. When I dictate sentences, she spells every word correctly and leaves out every capital letter. I wait; she erases, adds. I may leave a meaningful silence, but, telling: I never mention the capital letters. A habit.

This is not a terribly bad habit, but I think we can change it. I explained my theory. I endured the reproach, "you keep talking about habits these days." I outlined how we will change our approach to spelling. I want her to think about the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence, and the beginning of the name, not later. This will require that she concentrate. If she can't fully concentrate on spelling the spelling lesson will be over. A spelling lesson cut short!

This is why you must know your child. When Ally, who would love a world in which there was no spelling (not just lessons, mind you, simply words that never needed to be spelled), heard the new plan she laughed aloud. "I would have just done the first sentence wrong every day." She would have, and walked away a merry soul. Kara, however, writhes on the floor begging for just one more opportunity and promising greater powers of concentration. I think we have a good chance.

The idea of habit has permeated my days, and I've yet to finish the book. That is the power of an idea.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I could say it briefly: we picked apples, Gold Rush and Fuji. The Arkansas Black weren't ready yet.

But if I did you'd miss something of the essence of the day:

You'd miss the excitement of wondering whether the car could master the mud puddle. You'd miss the silence and the sunshine. You'd miss the fish jumping in the pond. You'd miss row after row of cheery fruit trees. You'd miss the wasps and the butterflies. You'd miss the smiles of the children. You'd miss the sweetness of the apples.

I wouldn't want you to miss the apples.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Conversation With the Chef: Boeuf Broth

I made Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon for dinner last night. The recipe calls for two or three cups of beef stock. I had one giant packet of soup bones in the freezer, given to me by my mom. I made a giant batch of beef broth, or really several. I had both my big pots simmering away all day. I won't think about how much electricity that used. I will think about the stock I have. Just beef, carrots, celery, onion, and black water. I know what's in it. I counted 26 cups of broth, that is a lot of tasty goodness frozen away for winter soups. Or Boeuf Bourguignon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reading Board

The littlest one has many teachers. At this moment he and Ally are in the kitchen performing experiments with sound from Exploring Creation with Physical Science. It is, literally, jarring.

Last week, at Rest Time, I heard Sam ask Arden to read to him, before Sam was lost in his own reading. Two brothers, cuddled side by side, reading the easiest Bob Books.

Arden's just beginning to "read,"  though I think much of what he's doing now is memorizing. Simple, three letter, short vowel words. The most impressive reading lesson we had was on the day we were working with "mad" and started making short sentences on the white board. Sam is mad at Arden. Arden is mad at Kara. It was wonderful fun. Things really got out of control when we sounded out: the cat is mad at dad. Hilarious.

And so, Kara created the Reading Board. Snipping construction paper, adding in her earnest scrawl names Arden knows and simple words. The board was the back of a watercolor paper tablet, spaces hastily laid out to build sentences. I'd like to tell you Arden loves it, but truthfully, we haven't used it yet. We'll try it though, because Kara made it for him.

This is not a lesson on how to teach your little one to read. The bickering, arguing, and yelling around here reduce me to deep sighs. But, still, still, they love each other. They enjoy each other. They want each other to succeed, whether it is studying for the GeoBee or sounding out "cat." It's not about reading at all.

Time. Love. Space. Imagination. See what your kids will create.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Untended Ditch

Our noontime walk each day takes Bryan and I along one wild stretch of road. One untended ditch in the midst of these blocks of houses. Yesterday I noticed the flowers again after the long summer, blooming wild, and I noticed fall. I walked back in the afternoon with Arden, the littlest, and we took turns photographing the ditch.

If I had the time to stitch a fall quilt, even a fall table runner, I know what colors I would choose. I love those fall colors stretching for miles along roads and up hillsides. The Great Master, He who created the world and all things in it, adds flecks of shocking colors to this fall canvas. He chooses the unexpected, He surprises, He delights.

So it is in our lives. He chooses the unexpected, "but God has chosen the foolish things...God has chosen the weak things...the base things...the despised...the things that are not..." (I Cor. 1:27-28). He surprises, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond what we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory..." (Eph. 3:20-21).

He delights in His creation. He delights our souls.

Monday, October 10, 2011


After seeing Kurt Simonson's still life of towels on the line at the English L'Abri, I was thinking how beautiful a kitchen towel is. How beautiful simplicity is. (Wait through the funny picture of the boy...not sure why he comes up when I test that link. Then I highly recommend watching the whole slide show.) Would that I could take pictures like that, or rather had time to develop my photography skills. Reminder, I am not about still life here, I am about real life. My real life rarely holds still.

The weather allows spaghetti sauce, on the stove, all day.

But it's still warm enough for shorts and tees.

Tarantula in the drive. I would have liked a closer shot, but I do try to keep my distance from spiders that size. Though really, that's the smallest tarantula we've seen, only about 2 inches across. Fall is mating season. This is the time of year we always see them prowling.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vir Means Man

A morning reading, spelling, and grammar lesson held with Kara while we cuddled on the couch, McGuffey's reader open before us, sparked a thought. Virtuous. It seemed, after casual inspection, to be from the Latin word for man, vir. Before lunch I pulled the old college dictionary off the shelf, traced the etymology, and sure enough, virtuous came into the English language through that ancient word for man.
Virtuous meaning: morally good; practicing the moral duties, and abstaining from vice. Naoh Webster, in 1828, was quick to add, "The mere performance of virtuous actions does not denominate an agent virtuous." Even a good man needs a Savior.

When I remind Sam to practice his guitar so he can look in teacher in the eye "like a man," I am speaking of the same thing. I'm not expecting a macho, chest thumping, manly pride. I'm expecting a boy with a good conscience and strength of character to have nothing of which to be ashamed before his teacher. Virtuous.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


One hundred and seventeen thousand dollars per year. That's my worth preceded by a dollar sign, according to the life insurance ad that the kids pulled out of our mailbox. If my husband wanted to insure me, to hire my replacements, he should have at least $117,000 available annually. Cash value of a homemaker.

I've spent years of my life doubting my worth because I wanted to make a home for my husband and children. I suppose a paycheck is some sort of external validation that you are smart, accomplished, a valuable asset to society. So it is nice to know that Someone Out There places such a high cash value on what I do here each day. After all, it's a lot more than my husband makes in a year, and I have always maintained that he couldn't afford me.

But it's also silly. A person's worth and value aren't related to a dollar sign. A replacement? He couldn't hire one of those. There's no cash valuation of all a wife and mother does in a home. There's no dollar sign beside cuddles and kisses, read aloud books and Bible stories, laughter at the table, training for a chore, hugs in the kitchen, walks in the sunshine, crazy music while we work, family jokes, a cup of tea, a little discipline, a lot of love. Can Bryan afford me? Not a chance in the world. I'm priceless.