British Educator, Miss Charlotte Mason {English Memories}

_MG_5756

{St. Mary’s, Ambleside, Cumbria, England and my sister}

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Charlotte Mason, a British educational reformer. As I’m in the throes of planning our new learning year, and just reading and researching, I got to thinking how very grateful I am to have found her philosophy. The impact her teachings has profoundly changed me and my life in all areas. It’s been two YEARS now, since I made my wonderful trip to see where she lived and worked, and I’ve yet to share how much it touched me. She has complimented and enhanced my faith in so many small ways and I was trying to put my finger on the why. I think that it has to do with the emphasis on people and relationship. Children are born persons, after all. Mothers and fathers are persons, too. I’m just barely grasping a small fraction of the importance of this and how Jesus really loved and cared for people.

{inside of St. Mary’s – and my dear mother}

I’ve been rereading favorite posts on Nancy and Karen’s blogs, as well as dipping into Karen’s book A Charlotte Mason Companion (a yearly summer reread!)and Charlotte’s own books, specifically Home Education, as I’m in a book group reading this together. What richness! This gift of a feast of ideas, which culminates in a love of God and others. Sigh. It’s not easy though, its not quick, there are no formulas, it really is a gentle sowing of the seed and trusting by faith, that richness is going to spring forth.

I so enjoyed strolling through some of the places Miss Mason lived and worked, visiting her grave. It was easy to see why the Lake District made such an impression on her, just the beauty and freedom of spirit, must have dove-tailed into her thoughts on the realness of this life and education. Life found in the little corners of the every day moments. Life found in the hard moments and good moments of family and friendships, and the lives we touch through beautiful books, art, and music.

{Archives of student work at the Armitt Museum and other items- a treasure trove of inspiration!}

Life is a balance between duty and pleasure, why not blend them both, with the cultivation of habits and careful attention, yet an openness and beauty of being unique people with unique gifts and bents, dipping our toes into many interesting pools of life?

{Ambleside Bridge House}

I guess I’ve been just trying to refresh my heart again about the deep emphasis on relationship. All of life really is a careful, thoughtful stitching pieces of our human relationships, our relationship with God, and all of the world around us. A delightful building of the quilt of life. Its hard, but it’s beautiful. It’s not hurried, it’s a slow flowing and filtering through each day, moment by moment. It really is revolutionary and counter-cultural. Charlotte Mason’s thoughts continue to help me in a small way with understanding the essence of relationship. When things are out of sync here, after reflection and prayer, it is usually that I have a rift in one of my many relationships.  I’m prayerfully considering again, a time of refreshing and reordering of my affections. On God and on people. Truly, the things that matter.

_MG_5779

{Scale Howe – Miss Mason’s teacher training school – now part of the University of Cumbria}

My sister and I were so touched by this quote in one of the students notebooks at the Armitt Museum. I still think about it often ~

 

The Heavens are calling you and whirl around you,

Displaying to you their eternal beauties;

Yet still your eye is looking at the ground.

~ Dante

Why indeed am I still ‘looking at the ground’ when there is so much more? A beautiful quote to meditate on and consider as I realign myself and refocus on what it means to have this privilege and a responsibility to be alive. I am so grateful.

~

Summer-Tinged

DE49912E-65AF-4697-B341-F30A0AD44420

{I want to hop into this little fairy tale garden my daughter made for me ~}

So, after major insomnia last night (too much caffeine and sadness over people battling cancer, was the culprit, I suspect), I ended up sleeping in pretty late. Good ‘ole dog days of summer, where one can sleep in without throwing a monkey wrench into plans. My older children and my husband dragged out a box of cereal and none of the beautiful people or creatures here went hungry.

I’ve been slowly working on reading and thinking about our new year of home learning, I have swept the cobwebs from last year out of my brain, for the most part, and am getting excited about cracking open the new books and beauty we will share together. Nancy and Karen’s blogs are full of delightful, life-giving, wonder-FILLED, inspiration, encouragement, and ideas for learning with our children.  Granted, I’m still glad there are a few full months of summer left. It’s been just glorious to soak in sunshine, breeze, and all of the GREEN. It can slow down and linger yet awhile.

Plastic army guys, LEGO, and various toy battles have been the nature of today. Books cracked, raspberries picked and made into smoothies, leaf men, and dress up are the stuff dream summer days are made of…oh, to forever be grateful for these days with my children.

I have my holiday laundry just about caught up, my son just brought in the last bunch that was line drying. I noticed a large bull thistle bloom near the line and was thinking about how something so beautiful, deep and richly purple, comes from something prickly and painful. Just like most of life, huh? My flower baskets on my deck didn’t fair so well over our holiday, just so hot and needing more water than we thought. My youngest noticed their state and said, “Oh no, your flowers died, mom,” with concern in his voice. I haven’t given up hope to revive them a bit.

My father-in-law gave us some fresh cucumber from his garden and it was so delicious, an afternoon snack of veggies and hummus was perfect. I just finished The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge and it was so thought-provoking and lovely.  I just received a new poetry book to share with the children called Come Hither by Walter de la Mare. The rest of today promises to be full of listening, more books, and tidying up. I’m hopeful. I’m looking ahead. There is always a bend in the old, country, summer-tinged road.

~

June Reads

Happy July, Readers! I’m catching up after being on holiday, so things are a little behind, but that’s ok. Here is what I finished up reading in June ~

1492117  Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason (*****) – It’s hard to review these as a whole, because each section is jammed packed with interesting and wise tidbits about educating children, parenting, and frankly, I learn a lot to meditate on about all of life. It takes me a LONG time to read these, unless I’m reading with a group. This volume of Miss Mason’s is unique, in that it gives chapters that serve as examples with problems one might face in different situations or children. I highly recommend. Be forewarned, once you finish, you may want to turn right back around and read it again, because there is SO much goodness in here.

35489103   The Landscapes of Annie of Green Gables by Catherine Reid (*****) – Gorgeous book of photos, quotes, and brief history on L.M. Montgomery and the island she loved so much. I highly recommend for an Anne of Green Gables or Montgomery fan!

35505416  Across the Blue by Carrie Turansky (***) – I won this on a blog, which was so nice, because I didn’t even know I was entered! Ha. In the end, I’d give this a 2.5-3 stars as the topic was interesting, a fictional story based around the first man to fly over the English Channel. I loved the different angles, including a mystery. The breaking societal norms for a upper class woman feels like it is been written about over and over, and the romance was predictable.

The Night Circus The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (****) – 3.5 – This was beautifully written, crazy, and unique. I loved the dark, yet twinkly feel to this book. I mostly felt sorrow for how badly Celia was treated by her father and Marco also by his adoptive guardian. It showed clearly that abuse can manifest itself in many different ways, through outright violence and anger or manipulation and careful, calculated control. (More of my review here if you are interested!) 

20170404 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1) The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (****) – This fantasy/sci-fi classic has been on my list for awhile and I was so enchanted by Discworld and the amazing characters that Pratchett created. Not sure if I will go on to read all the Discworld, as I think there are 40 or more of them! I’m tempted to try book two. If you want a crazy unique, light story, check this one out!

Serve It Forth Serve It Forth by MFK Fisher (****) – I’ve been wanting to read Fisher since I’ve enjoyed Julia Child’s and Peter Mayle’s foodie memoirs. This did not disappoint! Just random chatting about the history of food, stories about meals she shared, and delicious food descriptions. I will be reading more from her!

The Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2) The Dark is Rising (Book 2 in The Dark Is Rising Sequence) by Susan Cooper (****) I love Middle Grade and Young Adult Classics and this is a fantasy classic that is underappreciated I think. This is a reread and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. I recently reread the first one, Over Sea, Under Stone, and am planning on slowly continuing through this series. If you enjoy English myths, fantastical battles between good and evil, and children on daring adventures, you will LOVE these. If you are giving these to children, I would say they are on the darker end of fantasy. Just FYI.

Smoky-House Smoky-House by Elizabeth Goudge (***) – Ahh! I love your stories so much, Elizabeth dear. This one was a sweet children’s story about a widower and his five children, and a mystery surrounding their inn, the Smoky-House. This one was sweet mixed with strange about Free Traders on an English coast. It was not my favorite of all Goudge’s, but I loved the three animals and how they were major characters of the story, and we were able to hear their conversations.

Discovering the Character of God Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) – I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

Five on a Treasure Island (Famous Five, #1) Five on a Treasure Island (The Famous Five Series, Book 1) by Enid Blyton (*****) – I’ve been wanting to read this series and I really enjoyed this lovely story of three cousins who meet and stay the summer with their cousin and her dog. Full of adventures and lovely English sentiments, I can’t wait to read more and share them with my children, also.

The Divide (The Alliance #2) The Divide by Jolina Petersheim (****) – This was the sequel to The Alliance which I read last month and I enjoyed the conclusion to the story of a Mennonite community struggle for survival in a dystopian society. This one was a little darker and had a sad undertone to it, but overall I was enthralled and it raised a lot of questions on how far you would be willing to go when defending your love ones and battling starvation. Not a light read, but interesting!

Stillmeadow Seasons (Stillmeadow Series, #3) Stillmeadow Seasons by Gladys Taber (*****) – I finished my current Taber read, as I always have a little bit of her memoirs going. She is so lovely, simple, and hearkens back to the days of living off the land, following the seasons, and the beauty and value that can be found in homemaking. I don’t think I have any new Stillmeadow books to work on, so I might need to search around online for one. *ahem* 😉 I do have one about her father and one about her later years, living in Cape Cod.

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1) Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (*****) –  Don’t judge this one by it’s ugly cover! Another high fantasy classic that I just learned about. This was a wonderfully, full, richly constructed world and characters. I can’t wait to read the others in the series. This is written in older, beautiful language, feels like a mystery, adventure, within the confines of feudalism, and the intrigues of the court and common people.

Holy Bible: King James Version The Holy Bible (*****) – Isaiah and some of Psalms.

 

~

 

Drenched

4E8075BD-2CDE-4E4A-88FF-9D54D2DF36C2

The day is drenched in Thee:

In little, exquisite surprises

Bubbling deliciousness of Thee arises

From sudden places,

Under the common traces

Of my most lethargied and ‘customed paces.

~”His Surprises”,  Amy Carmichael, Mountain Breezes, p. 44

 

Yesterday was one of those actual delicious mornings, wind on the face, cool and sweet, sun-kissed, and soft. My laundry was flapping away, I sat on my deck, drinking in coffee,  bits of  the Book of Psalms and Isaiah. The newest batch of kittens, tumbled and rolled about me, my flower baskets tickled by the same wind that kissed me. My youngest was playing in the puddles, with old ice cream buckets, grass clippings, and his sister’s little pink tea kettle.

My husband and oldest daughter were off on a farm adventure, two of my daughters were with Grandma Margaret, having a grand time, evidenced by the photos I was receiving via text. So it was just myself and my three boys, reveling in the sun and  general splendor of a lovely, warm June day. These sorts of days aren’t always around. Days can be dark physically, mentally, and relationships torn. If you look hard enough, though, I believe any day can be redeemed. This just happened to be a gift day, a particularly drenched-in-beauty day. We scrambled up some of my son’s fresh eggs, and the boys, who have hollow legs, raided leftovers, also. I continued my laundry work, slowly making my way through the bedding from our Texan family visiting last week.

The act of hanging clothing on the line is so soothing to me. There is just something so satisfying about pulling the basket along after you, rough-wooden pins in hand or mouth, and slowly seeing your family’s daily life unfurl. My son’s favorite t-shirt, all the extra potty-training underwear (ha. ok, those make me grumble a bit ), table cloths, well-used for family meals, towels that dried little bodies, and swimsuits from hours of fun at the lake.

I tackled a project that had taken me three weeks to work up the nerve. It took me only about 45 minutes to complete. Isn’t that always how it is? We make things so much worse by building them up in our mind. The craft/game/supply closet was a veritable bog of random puzzle pieces, pencils, dust bunnies, leftover diapers, craft sticky letters, and flotsam and jetsam of our school year.  I can’t tell you the relief I felt, packing away the Bing Crosby Christmas cds that were still out and stacking all the toilet paper in ONE spot! It’s the little things, folks.

Later morning found me blissfully relaxing under the lone tree in our front yard, yes, admiring the clothesline’s dancing occupants, talking with Ben, as he made a grass salad, and contemplating a beautiful line from Elizabeth Goudge’s A Pilgrim’s Inn, 

When she had filled her basket with holly Jill sat down on the rock and waited happily for the twins. She did not find the waiting irksome, for she had been born one of those fortunate people who are never in a hurry and never restless. She had never felt restless in her life. In all that she did, in all that she saw, she was aware of a deep upspringing wonder, as though she did it or saw it for the first time. She was blessed with a mind neither retrospective nor anxious; the past and the future did not pull her two ways with remorse and dread, and the lovely freshness of each new-made moment was apparent to her focused vision. p. 314

What a wonderful thoughts… I desire to be constantly aware of a deep upspringing wonder. Isn’t that just such a lovely thought?  No matter how dark life gets, wonder is there, pushing at the cracks and bruises, trying to shine through. Brushing the grass from my skirt, I took this thought into the house, where I made leftovers, tuna, and salad for lunch.

The afternoon brought more freshly laundered sheets, more reading, my boys choosing to watch some LoTR movies, since their little siblings weren’t around, the scary factor is high on those. I got outdoors and took a quick walk through the countryside anticipating running to town right after to pick up my middle girls and have a coffee with my sister. It was so unbelievably gorgeous, the  birds, wind, and hot sunshine blending into a song and poem, floating on the wind, their notes following, matching the beat of my footsteps.

Grilled pork chops, deck moments gazing at the full moon, and late night banana bread baking were more frosting on the cake. What a gift, drenched with wonder. I’m saving it away to be pulled out when I need it.  ~

E1F49BBF-2BF7-4D8D-850B-098CB2620E5C

Anne of Green Gables: Chapter 19 & 20 {and other related book chat}

 

One June evening, when the orchards were pink-blossomed again, when the frogs were singing silverly sweet in the marshes about the head of the Lake of Shining Waters, and the air was full of the savor of clover fields and balsamic fir woods, Anne was sitting by her gable window. She had been studying her lessons, but it had grown too dark to see the book, so she had fallen into wide-eyed reverie, looking out past the boughs of the Snow Queen, once more bestarred with it’s tufts of blossom. In all essential respects the little gable chamber was unchanged. The walls were as white, the pincushion as hard, the chairs as stiffly and yellowly upright as ever. Yet the whole character of the room was altered. It was full of a new vital, pulsing personality that seemed to pervade it and to be quite independent of schoolgirl books and dresses and ribbons, and even of the cracked blue jug full of apple blossoms on the table. It was as if all the dreams, sleeping and waking, of its vivid occupant had taken a visible although immaterial form and had tapestried the bare room with splendid filmy tissues of rainbow and moonshine.

p. 161-162, Anne of Green Gables

 

{Short note to Maud -excuse me for a moment!} Oh, Lucy Maud. You just have such a way with words. And make up beautiful words, too, like silverly, yellowly…sigh. I so wish I could be your friend in real life. I know you said that your characters resemble no one in real life, but as I learn more and more about you, oh my, so much of your wonderful thoughts, love of nature, and turning from pain and choosing to focus on beauty comes through in your writing. I’m reading the first volume of your journals, gifted to me kindly by my sister, for my birthday. You know that, young Maud is very much like young Anne in many ways, right? Such a beautiful composite and interweaving of real life experiences, feelings and fiction’s glorious imaginative flights of fancy. The photos of P.E.I. in a lovely book I borrowed from the library remind me so deeply of my own trip and introduction to your beloved island. Just glorious! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting your pen to the paper and sharing pure beauty in ink. }

Chapters 19 & 20

{continuing our readings}

These two chapters were just lovely with Anne and Diana’s infamous jumping on top of Aunt Josephine in the very Sparest of Bedrooms. Of course, Anne ends up gaining a Bosom Friend from the whole ordeal. Matthew stood up to Marilla, with always humorous conversations occuring when he does.

Anne’s place names are just sooo wonderful. Dryad’s Bubble, Idlewild, The Haunted Wood, and Victoria Island, in honor of the Queen, of course.

Anne’s inattention and imagination are large factors in Matthew’s handkerchiefs being starched and a pie being burnt to a crisp. Surprise, surprise. She is moodily reflecting on the fact that she has been at Green Gables for a year.

Marilla makes Anne take a dreaded trip at TWILIGHT through the Haunted Wood to get an apron pattern from Mrs. Barry, which is just about the same as death. How could you, Marilla? 😉

Such hilarious, beautiful chapters and made all the more wonderful by simultaneously dipping into Volume 1 of L.M. Montgomery’s journals and Catherine Reed’s The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables. I highly recommend them.

IMG_4967

~

Monday Ponderings {June 18th, Happy Birthday to me!}

4C44B76A-7472-43AB-BBDF-09012E36E4A3

Our love is like a little pool; Thy love is like the sea…

~ beautiful line from an Amy Carmichael poem “Surprising Love”, p. 18, Mountain Breezes

Love is at the heart of every right way, and essential forgiveness at the heart of every true treatment of the sinner. 

~ George MacDonald, p. 307, Discovering the Character of God

Face to Face

O Love Divine, if we can see

In our beloved so dear a grace,

When Love unveils, what will it be

To see Thee face to face?

~Amy Carmichael

{The photo is from a lovely B&B my husband and I stayed at last weekend. We snuck away for a short break and it was so nice. Meditating on these today…how is your week shaping up? I’m a grand 38 today. I feel like I’m straddling the young and old fence. Ha. Three cheers for birthdays! Happy Monday from all of us here at Hearth Ridge Farm.}

~

Anne of Green Gables: Chapters 17 & 18

img_1383

{continuing my S-L-O-W as molasses rereading of this favorite}

In Chapter 17, we find Anne still reeling over her forbidden friendship with Diana. They secretly meet and Diana shares that her mother will not forgive Anne for setting Diana drunk. 😉 Marilla is her funny self, not sharing too much sympathy for Anne’s outrageous sorrow over this injustice.

“I don’t think there is much fear of your dying of grief as long as you can talk, Anne,” said Marilla unsympathetically.  p. 113

She decides to go back to school (I forgot that she wasn’t going? I don’t remember why. Maybe just the sadness over the lost friendship? They let you out of school for that?) and bury her sorrows in study. Everyone is glad that she is back, she is a lively and imaginative addition to the otherwise boring school day.  She is very much rebuffing any overtures of friendship on Gilbert’s part, even an glorious apple left for her. Diana and her pass a few secretive notes, basically saying Diana is not allowed to talk or play with her at all.

Anne throws herself passionately into her studies trying to beat Gilbert at everything.

“She was as intense in her hatreds as in her loves.”

Geometry and Anne do not mix at all and she is in “the depths of despair” over it.

Chapter 18 finds Marilla off to see the Canadian Premier with Rachel Lynde, so Anne and Matthew are taking care of Green Gables.

A humorous and heartwarming conversation in the cheerful kitchen happens between them and as they are chatting, Diana bursts in, hysterically crying about Minnie Mae being ill.

Anne is as cool as a cucumber, bragging a bit about her knowledge of croup, believing now that she knows why she had to deal with Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins. For this moment of glory alone, it was all worth it.

Maud Montgomery’s nature descriptions shine here again:

“The night was clear and frosty, all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope; big stars were shining over the silent fields; here and there the dark pointed firs stood up with snow powdering their branches and the wind whistling through them. Anne thought it was truly delightful to go skimming through all this mystery and loveliness with your bosom friend who had been so long estranged.” p.142

Anne does help Minnie Mae and Matthew brings the doctor, who congratulates her on her quick thinking and for saving Minnie’s life.

Marilla comes back and in her cool, calm way shows Anne her pride in what she did by serving up a delicious meal, with the added treat of blue plum preserve. She calmly holds back that Mrs. Barry had been there, gushing in thankfulness and contrition. Anne finished the day in a rapture, as she is invited to dinner with the Barry family.

 

Here is a podcast on Women’s Friendships in Story and it has an interesting look at Anne and Diana’s friendship! I highly recommend it!

~

 

 

T.G.I.M, or Are You Glad It’s Monday?

IMG_5697

{L.Maud Montgomery’s Place of Birth, P.E.I., Canada}

I don’t know if it’s my personality or my nature of my full-time job as a stay-at-home-mother and homemaker, but I love Mondays. I find the weekends are busy and semi-chaotic. Oh, you betcha, we probably had fun on Saturday and Sunday. It’s ok, if you think I’m such a stick in the mud, because sometimes I am. I just can’t help thinking that fun equals more-work-for-mom. Come on, admit it, it’s fantastically true. For the most part, I’m able to let go and enjoy the moment, but inside there is something sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting expectantly for delicious, quiet-ish Monday. There’s something so sure about it, so solid, so steady about it – it’s a recover-the-house-from-the-weekend-sort-of-day. We slowly dig ourselves out, one shovel full at a time, from the piles of weekend picnicking, towels & swimsuits, piles of dishes from the hurried, countless meals, and pick up random soda cans, discarded shopping bags, dead, discarded bouquets. The book stacks we perused are re shelved, movies put back in their cases, and the slate wiped squeaky clean. The washer starts its thrice-weekly chugging and I bask in the quiet, windy moments, sunshine on my face, hanging laundry out. The cupboards and fridge are glanced and tumbled through for delicious dinner ideas for the coming week, usually to no avail. Six busy, but glorious days of familiarity, semi-predictability, and lovely home-life potential stretch out in front of us. Oh, the possibilities. Each night, reading aloud before bed, falling into cool sheets, usually with filthy feet. Don’t get me started on slow morning coffee rituals. None of this gulping and burning my lips, and dumping precious elixir into a cold, sterile thermos, that I end up doing on the weekend. Never-mind the wasted coffee (gasp!) that sometimes happens when we are running around like chickens with our heads chopped off. (Where did that saying originate, I wonder?) Instead, a favorite, bright, warm, cheerful mug, slow sipping and ruminating happen most weekdays. Ahh, this is the life. Watching the sunrise, steam rising over the oatmeal simmering, flicking off the gas, and covering the pot. The hard work, sweaty gardening days, who am I kidding, weed days is more like it, that fresh smell of the cut grass. Time slows way down, we stop to smell the air after the rain as we jump in the van, headed to softball with friends.  Meals are generally served around the same time, surprises are kept to a semi-minimum (one has to be realistic with 8 people here, there WILL be surprises, eek!), and I feel even more like an old lady in her old, little cottage that never leaves, sipping tea, and reading books. Oh, well. That sounds heavenly to me. Five day weekends are wonderful, my friends. Thank Goodness It’s Monday.

~

On Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Wodwo or Wild Man of the Woods by Martin Schongauer 15th century engraving

Wodwo or “Wild Man of the Forest” by Martin Schongauer, 15th Century Engraving

“What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air?”

(beginning of the haunting poem “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes)

     What inspires and moves you? What makes you feel most alive? For me, I find inspiration in all of life, in the little details of the salad my daughter and I are tossing, or even in the way the light shines on our book shelves. I find beauty in my faith, in nature, and mostly, dear literature. My favorite fiction being fairy tales and fantasy. Something about these stories, echoes the faith I have that this world is not my real home. There is something waiting that is better and perfect. Now for clarity, I’m referring to older fairy tales, folktales, and the writings of fantasy giants like J.R.R. Tolkien and his buddy, Mr. Lewis. While fantasy, and all the sub-genres, are more readily available these days, and in some ways a bit more accepted as literature, I’m afraid I haven’t found much that I love and find value in, as I have from the classics. There seems to be a key ingredient missing in most modern fantasy, but what that is, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one main thing. I’ve been thinking about another small funny thing about my love of the fantastical. It has mainly been cultivated in my young adult and not-so-young adult years. That’s right. I’ve grown to love fairy tales and fantasy as an adult.  What may seem like a waste of time and an odd choice for an adult to be reading, has, in reality, been water to the parched soil of my imagination. Recently, I pulled off the shelf one of my most favorite books on family culture and home education, Bequest of Wings: A Family’s Pleasures With Books by Annis Duff. This book was published in 1944, but I find much of it strangely relevant for my life today. While Duff and I differ in our beliefs, I can pull out so many gems of glorious beauty.

In Chapter Fourteen, Mrs. Duff lays out a defense for fairy tales, and I found it fascinating. She is referring to the idea that many look upon the ideas in fairy tales or fantasy with what Anatole France described as, “looking upon the imagination with mistrust.”

Children do not as a rule make this mistake; they are not so rigidly habituated to the distinctions that grown-ups make between what is probable and possible and what is inconceivable and contrary to reason.  They still possess the faculty of imagination that makes room for miracles, perhaps because the marvelous novelty of the world and of living has not yet worn off. The trouble with grown-ups is that they take things too seriously. Where children read fairy tales-and they do read them-just for fun, grown-ups often tend to theorize about ethical, social and cultural values until all the juice is squeezed out.

I just love that last line. “Until all the juice is squeezed out”, indeed. As an adult, working backward through the mystery of fairy tales and fantasy, I’m finding a world in which I can make sense of life. I can untangle just a small fraction of the ugliness of reality in this world and partake of beauty not of this world. It makes sense to some inner sensibility in me as a part of the wonderful creation of God. It’s the stark, brutal, horrible world with its insane pace, unreasonable standards, and true falsity that seems strange to me.

Duff goes on to say the importance of truths about darkness seen at a slant in fairy tale:

It is not a particularly healthy thing for children to read about killing. Killing is not a healthy business. But it goes on just the same, and I think that reading about the matter-of-fact way that people have of disposing of their adversaries in fairy tales has perhaps helped to “condition” my daughter to withstand the shock of hearing and reading about the impassioned massacre that men indulge in nowadays. Children, after all, are a part of this world, and however little we and they like some aspects of it, it will not help to draw the veil over the unpleasant things. I know that with my own daughter there is no danger of developing a calloused point of view. Accepting a situation that you cannot do anything about for the moment is quite a different thing from absolving yourself of responsibility for the future, and it is possible that the knowledge that men from time immemorial have killed each other may be the basis of a practical method of discovering how to stop it. 

Fairy tales teach us about ourselves and others:

My impression is that people in fairy tales behave pretty much as people do in real life. Some live by high principles, some are given over to evil ways; some are kindly in disposition, others practice meanness and persecution. Some go adventuring, some stay at home…And in fairy tales each type, with the action that represents it, is brought to life objectively, emphatically and consistently. Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Let’s read that again, because I love it so much.

Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Duff goes on to talk about how the characters presented in fairy tales often give her daughter something to draw on, saying so-and-so is like a certain character, for good or for evil. This helps us to turn from that which we dislike and see as wrong and turn toward the good, beautiful, and true. Fantasy generally doesn’t tell us wrong from right, but shows us both sides, leaving us to choose, an important part of life.

Here she discusses, specifically the fairy tales of Hans Andersen, and I think it’s worth thinking about:

… the great beauty and enduring value of Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales is that they show life as it is, birth at the beginning and death at the end, and a whimsical mixture of laughter and tears in between. I do not understand why it should be thought right or necessary to shield a child from the knowledge that death is the inevitable, the logical, the adventurous end to living…This idea must grow by slow and comfortable degrees, and I know of few things that show the way more simple and sweetly than Hans Anderson’s stories. He does not twist things away from their natural direction in order to bring about a happy ending, and I think that children feel the dignity and tranquility of his rounded episodes. Tragedy, in Andersen’s tales, is never shocking; he is gentle and patient in teaching children that life does not always have a happy face, and his sense of proportion is so delicate that he never overburdens his readers with sadness. The persuasive feeling of quiet confidence and conviction of the rightness of things as they happen flows steadily through Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and I know it is helping out daughter to form her philosophy of acceptance of the naturalness and inevitability of death and sorrow. 

Not all fairy tales and fantasy are created equal, as I touched on earlier, especially, unfortunately, the modern genre. However, even in the classics, my children and I have found stories that were too grim for us. Ironically, some of these were from Grimm’s fairy tales. Some of it might find its origins in myth and folktale that is contrary to our faith. Yet, beauty can be found everywhere. I might argue that true beauty is all from the same Source, no matter the conduit that it comes through. We use discernment, but we also don’t live by fear. All of it, everything we partake of, we hold lightly, snapping up the good, and setting aside what doesn’t resonate with us. As Duff says, the ideas in literature “must grow by slow and comfortable degrees”, and I can’t agree more.

What are you inspired by? Do you enjoy fairy tales and the fantasy genres in literature?

~

Wonderment

AFC2C13E-E31E-4EF7-BC72-8E4671542E7B

{Trina Schart Hyman – one of our favorite illustrators ~}

Is wonder tangible? I often think of it as having a soft, secretive way about it that steals deeply into my soul, ducking just around corners. It takes a close noticing and reverence to catch it unawares. A small copse of birch trees, the certain way the light filters through the window, embroidery of the edge of a skirt, the cedar smell of newly sharpened pencils, and the sound of waves lapping the sandy shore. There are so many moments of wonder and fodder for the imagination all around, sometimes it feels like my senses will overload, or feel frantic for the missing of anything. Birdsong, the trickle music of water in a brook, the way that trees move in the wind, shadows from clouds, the musty, romantic smell of an old story rising, swirling from the pages of a vintage book, and colorful Shakespeare paper dolls that I’m slowly cutting out for my daughter. Can you feel it? Don’t you want to catch that wonder, chase it through a green field into the wide, blue yonder?  I do, I find I must.  Perfect pine cones in a dish, on display, a golden dandelion bouquet from daughter, and the fresh, born-again smell after the rain. These little things swell inside my heart as small reflections, teeny gifts, combating the darkness of this world, and reminding me of my true home, the piece of the puzzle that is missing.  Scripture and poetry come alive, with deep meaning and bloody love pricks to the heart, when one tucks them away, and takes them outdoors on a walk. Delicious tea, table set, candle flame slant, voices chattering around the table, seed cake shared, and spills mopped up by mustard, floral printed towel. Wandering through wonder, I’m able to rise above life’s daily struggles, because I see the light, or underside of them. We see the rich colors in the pile of laundry, we smell the soap suds from the sink full of dishes, we dance along the relationship intricacies, seeing them in the light of our own holes, and knowing we all are flawed, yet beautiful in our originality. The essence of glorious tulips coming up through black dirt. The ugly births beautiful. Wonder prisms the darkness with light and color. My eyes see it all through a sunrise edged with fog.

Wonderment. I’m following it.

~

April Reads

Vilma Reading on a sofa_ by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

“Vilma Reading on a sofa” by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

I was able to read some lighter fiction this month and finish some of the ones I’ve been dipping into for awhile now. The weather is turning glorious, so one must push oneself off of one’s backside and out of doors. 😉 I’m still plugging away at my selections for the Back to Classics reading community, but haven’t finished any more of them. I’ve been dipping into more Children’s and YA literature and I always fall back in love with it. Recently, I finally read a Moomin tale and found in charming. Do you enjoy Children’s or YA for yourself? WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE SUBJECTED TO A VERY TALL PILE OF BOOKS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (***) – I tend to rate books immediately upon completion very emotionally. I initially rated this a bit higher, but bumped it down a bit after I thought on it awhile. I’m not sure why I do this. This was silly and eye-rolling fun. I enjoyed the creativity of this story very much! It had a predictable plot, swearing, wonderfully wonky puns, and some ridiculous cliches, but the truth is, I just want to escape through a Prose Portal and visit with Jane and Mr. Rochester. The End.

Wodwo by Ted Hughes (****) – This is a collection of poems, short stories, and one play. It was weirdly wonderful. Hughes use of words is beautiful and he paints beautiful word pictures. I didn’t always understand the themes or subject of the pieces, but overall, I was enchanted by his word wizardry. My favorite poem of all, and one I’m super inspired by, is the title poem, “Wodwo”. I actually heard of this mythical creature from Robert MacFarlane’s Instagram account and googled the term. I was intrigued and chased it down, finding this book by Hughes.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver (***) – There were parts of this that just made my soul sing. I especially loved the opening essay, “Upstream”, and there were words and thoughts and phrases that were just so beautiful. The rest was just ok and a bit strange and rambly. I really should reread and jot down words and phrases for future contemplation.

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason (***) – This was an inspirational thriller with a side of mystery and romance. This title was intriguing and fast paced. I suspect that there are many others in this series or previous books that introduced the family of law enforcement officials, because I felt a little confused about details about the main characters, like it was assumed I knew about them a bit already. Over all, very well done, the villain/mystery was well-hidden and the romance not too bad on the cheese-o-meter.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – This has taken me months to get through because it was heart-wrenching in many ways. Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it. This is an achingly beautiful account of The Belgian Congo and a family torn up by Pharisaical religiosity, racism, sexism, and as many other “isms” that Kingsolver could think of and fit into this book. This is the first book that made me cry in a long time and I will never forget it. Even though I strongly believe the author made sweeping, prejudiced (ironically, the very thing she eloquently rails about in this book) blanket judgments of things she abhors (or at least seems to based on this novel), there is SO much to appreciate about this and pull away from it. Highly recommend if you can read it with a grain of salt and a willingness to look at yourself, shaking off deeply ingrained things that aren’t right.

Hourglass: Time, Memory, and Marriage by Dani Shapiro (*****) – If you remember last month, I finished another of this author’s titles, Still Life: Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, and thought to try another soon. This was a short and easy stroll. Just subtle and lovely look at how fast time flies and longevity in marriage (ironically, this is the author’s third marriage, BUT I want to believe the best about people, right?! Marriage is hard, but that’s what can make it good). It was poignant and it made me think.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (**) – This was another Instagram FAIL. I was so disappointed after a promising beginning. Longer review here if you are interested, but slight spoiler alerts.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (*****) – SLIGHT SPOILER! The daily workings of a telecommunications company may not sound fascinating, but oh wow, they are when you have Willis writing about them. The new craze is a medical implant supposedly to increase your emotional connection to your partner. Briddley, a young employee, is thrilled and astonished by the attention lavished on her by one of her bosses Trent, and now he wants to get this implant with her! The weird tech department guy won’t stop warning her about the dangers of this procedure, and her big crazy Irish family won’t leave her alone.  Continued review here!

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (***) – (GRAPHIC CONTENT IN THIS BOOK – READ COMPLETE REVIEW BEFORE READING!) I have a bit of a book “hangover” from this title. Brutal and honest look at life during the colonization of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) by the French and Spanish. This follows the life of a young slave Tete and her masters and the people she encounters in her life from her mother’s origins in Africa, enslaved to Haiti, ending up in Louisiana. It touches on Toussaint Louverture and his impact on the Haitian Revolution.  Continued review here! 

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a beautifully written inspirational historic romance. Three different women’s stories carefully woven through the generations of the countryside of France. It takes you through the French Revolution, WWII, and modern day with ease and fluidity. The romance was SO well done, tasteful and slow, I’m so happy to find an Christian author like this. I can’t wait to read more from Cambron. This title reminded me a bit of Kate Morton’s style. The ONE thing I didn’t like was there were a few “neat” bows-tied up, but I’ll forgive it, because I really enjoyed it.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises from Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell (*****) – I think that title says it all. No need for a review. Ha. This was simple, straightforward, and I loved learning about what it takes to craft fiction. Wowsers. Go shake an author’s hand, will you, please? This is a great resource, wonderful for revisiting parts over and over again, and I’m sure I will, as I continue to learn and grow.

Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (*****) – This was absolutely charming story of a little family of critters searching for their loved ones and forever home. They meet a whole bunch of fascinating friends on their journey. Gorgeous, whimsical illustrations with just the right amount of creep.  I want to move into Moominvalley with them!

Yonder by Margaret Bell Houston (*****) – My dear friend gave me a copy of this book this past weekend and I gobbled it up. Written BEAUTIFULLY and with such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, and creepiness. A young woman Olive lives through a horrible tragedy and needs to begin again. She ends up as a companion to a young woman suffering from acute mental illness brought on by a sudden horrific event in her life. She lives in a castle on an island in the Florida keys filled with old, hidden memories, creepy handicap sister, and old, withered father. A mysterious servant Ezra is always in the shadows, as Olive tries to help the beautiful Zoé, the atmosphere and place creeps into her being. Olive finds herself healing and growing through the most unlikely friendships. This is full of lovely atmospheric bits, delicious haunts, and old pirate ghosts floating through the halls. I could feel the salt spray on my face and taste it all. I dug around a bit I found out the author is the granddaughter of Sam Houston, of Houston, Texas fame. Interesting!

The Holy Bible (*****) – working slowly through Proverbs, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John.

~

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, dear Elizabeth Goudge!

IMG_3692

Can I introduce you to a dear friend of mine? Elizabeth Goudge. A gorgeous writer who has touched me profoundly. She is in my top five favorite authors.  Someone who you cannot read quickly, you must simmer and savor. Today I celebrate her birthday and like to think of her with a glimpse of the English countryside outside her window, pen scratching the paper, sipping tea, creating unforgettable stories for us to enjoy. They are sweeping, deep, with many layers, and you can reread them over and over and take away something entirely new each time. My favorites are A City of Bells, A Dean’s Watch, and A Pilgrim’s Inn (formally, Herb of Grace, which I like better). Have you read any of her books? Join me today in remembering Miss Goudge! Many happy returns!

~