Monday, November 24, 2014

The Faith of a Naturalist: a Book Post

Darwin Book

Today is the anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin.  As I regularly make it a practice to find good resources for my congregation and put them into calendars that mark dates like these, last month I checked out a bunch of Darwin books from the library.  Many I was already familiar with (One Beetle Too Many and The Humblebee Hunter are my favorite picture books, and I really like the YA novel Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith), but I also received a stack I had not read before and I had to choose just one as I didn't have time for them all.  My choice was a fortuitous one, and I am happy to say that Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks by Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a most fascinating book.

Unlike other books about Darwin that I have read, this book focuses on the inner journey and his growth as a naturalist through the daily writings he kept on his trip aboard the Beagle.  Haupt is herself a student of ornithology, so she admits to focusing on his work with birds mainly because that was the part that interested her the most, but also because she thinks birds are one of the more accessible areas of nature study for the general public.  As I also like to casually watch birds, I found myself agreeing with her.

While there is a great deal of interesting science and history here, in the end it wasn't the science or the history of the book that was the real take-away for me.  Haupt describes what she calls "the faith of a naturalist" and uses examples from Darwin and from her own life and studies as well as a few interviews she conducts that were in some way related to her topic.  She weaves between the historical and the modern, the scientific and the philosophical, and it was a lovely and thought-provoking progression.

A few quotes:

In our own lives as homespun naturalists, the moments we do manage to spend becoming educated by our native places can wend their way into our daily lives, making it more and more difficult to see ourselves as individuals, self-sufficient and cordoned off somehow from our humus-y ground.  We begin to see, rather, our lives as embodied, unseparate, inseparable, rushing forward with the whole of wild life.
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Yet it is here, in the spaces between what can be seen and what can be spoken, that the naturalist's faith often lies.  This is why it is called faith.  Intimacy, residence, patience, a sense of dwelling alongside wild nature, earthen insight, gratitude, affection, kindness, a kind of grace, a kind of joy - all of these unutterable things find a place in the naturalist's task.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Large Doses of the Outdoors

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This year we found a wonderful program for my son to do, attending the "Environmental Connections Outdoor School" which is a once a week full day of nature study, free play, and exploration outdoors.  They meet in a local park, and they do have a picnic shelter with a roof but otherwise they are really outdoors all day, all year.

Yesterday was a rainy and blustery day, which my daughter and I spent indoors (at church and at home) and still felt the need to go out for steaming hot bowls of pho for lunch.  As we looked out the window at the rain, we said "poor buddy, he's probably all wet and miserable".

When I picked him up, however, the sight that met me was not a bunch of bedraggled children huddled under a picnic shelter.  Instead, the children were playing in a shelter they had built in the woods, playing tug of war with an ivy vine they found that was apparently indestructible, and sliding through mud puddles and pits.  Yes, my son was all wet and dirty, but he was decidedly Not Miserable.  In fact, he said he had the best day ever and couldn't wait to do it again.  He had spent the rainy day carving sticks, building a fort, dissecting owl pellets, hearing local history stories (about the first peoples of this land and the settlers who came later), and generally having a grand time. 

We all belong outside, but children especially should be outdoors.  The connection with nature, the survival and resiliency skills learned, the healthy benefits of fresh air and plenty of physical activity - these are precious and valuable aspects of outdoor education. 

I'm so glad that 20 % of my son's schooling time is now spent in this way!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christmas just keeps running over Thanksgiving

ornament making at church

It's hard to keep Christmas at bay right now.  We've put away all of our Halloween decorations, and the little box of Thanksgiving decorations is always a disappointment to open compared to the multiple bins I have for Halloween and Christmas.  The kids are already working on Christmas songs for their music lessons, I've ordered my cards, made my plans, and we had an ornament making party for the Giving Tree project at church yesterday.

ornament making

I'm torn on this issue - on the one hand the Christmas Machine is just such a monster that it does need to be contained (and a simple Thanksgiving focused on gratitude for what we have is such a lovely thing it shouldn't get sacrificed to the beast) and then on the other hand the To Do list for December gets overwhelming and getting a jump on it makes it all much more manageable.

So I've done a few Christmas things.  But now,  to focus back on Thanksgiving and just tuck those things away!

Back to the Turkeys!

handprint turkeys

Monday, November 10, 2014

More Books (my new hobby seems to be posing books where I was sitting when I read them)

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Over an anniversary weekend away with my husband, I had some time to read in the Lodge lobby by the great big fireplace.

Last week I hit a milestone: 100 books read for the year.  And yet, that leaves 75 to go if I want to finish my 14 x 14 in 2014 challenge (and only 2 months to do it in - it seems not humanly possible).

Since the 100th book (which was Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie), I have read a few more:

  • Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (Poetry category)
  • Slow Family Living: 75 Ways Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy by Bernadette Noll (Parenting category)
  • Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems edited by Roger Housden (Poetry category)
And then, on my weekend away I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Around the World in Alphabetical Order category).

This "epistolary" novel (meaning it is written in the format of letters and telegrams sent back and forth between the characters) is the story of the German occupation of the Channel Islands and how the people survived and recovered, as well as a most delightful love story.  I'm using it for the G letter of my Around the World in Alphabetical Order category.

The rules of the Reading Challenge do allow me to apply a book to more than one category, so if I pick the books with care I could finish the challenge in less than 75 books - but still I need to get cracking with my reading!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Years (A book post)

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Alas, I am accepting the fact that I am unlikely to finish my 14 x 14 in 2014 challenge on time.  It's a lot of books, folks!

But here's another one down: The Years by Virginia Woolf.  I love the way Woolf writes, and her descriptive turn of phrase kept me going through this sprawling and disjointed look at one large extended family through forty years.  Time passes without any explanation of exactly what happened in the mean time, leaving the reader piecing it together through passing remarks and a few recollections. 

Along the way, the characters spend plenty of time musing and philosophizing about the meaning of life and just what they want out of it, and this adds to the plodding sense of tragedy as the years roll by and youthful possibility is replaced by elderly regrets and "what-if's". 

It's not all tragedy or meaninglessness, however, as there are moments described where characters find themselves sublimely happy.  Those moments are the times when the characters are alone and truly living in the moment, enjoying the world as it is now rather than looking to the future or to the past.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why are we Overwhelmed? (A book post)

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My latest read, related to Maxed Out which I recently read and posted about, has been another book on that same theme of parents trying to juggle work and love and play called Overwhelmed

Although the topic is very much the same, the authors' approaches differed.  While Alcorn is a blogger and coming from the tech business world, Schulte is a journalist.  Those different backgrounds show in the work.  Alcorn's style is much more personal memoir, but Schulte only uses a few personal examples and many more interviews.

Overwhelmed starts off with the author's encounter with a time-use researcher, and then follows her to a conference on leisure and time.  She concludes that it is about the balance in life between Work, Love, and Play and that forms the structure for the rest of the book with solid sections devoted to each of those three spheres. 

The book deals with both men and women, mothers and fathers, although there is more focus on women and parents.  But this is about what is going on with all of us - everyone who is caught up in the culture of overwhelm and busyness. 

This is a well-researched, thought-provoking, and ultimately useful book.  Now I'm mulling over the balance for myself: Work, Love, and Play.  Can I elevate play to equality with those other two?  Woah!  Now that feels like a challenge.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

In our Homeschool: A Little Change Does Us Good


A few posts ago I lamented that things had become rough around here: kids fighting more with each other, kids complaining and being rude to parents, parents rushed and cranky and yelling at kids, and general deteriorating conditions all around.

At this point, as a veteran of many such episodes throughout my life as a parent, I know what these symptoms point toward.  We get like this with each other when the routine that shapes our lives is no longer working, and when no one is getting their needs met well enough to feel resilient to the little irritations that are an inevitable part of life.  When my children were very little it was easy - if we started to all feel cranky with each other it meant I needed to take them outside to a playground and run and play until they were exhausted, then bring them home and take advantage of their rest time to read a book or put my own feet up (or get some work done, but no matter what, it was Fill Their Tank, then Use that Time for myself).

Now that they are older it's not as simple as outdoor play until they drop.  They want different things now, like for us to play video games with them, listen to a story idea that they thought of as they lay in bed this morning, or help them sew a costume for their medieval role play game that they have made up with their sibling.  That's the kind of involved quality time they want from me.  But they also want space and autonomy now!

They want long stretches of uninterrupted time on the computer, or alone in their rooms with an audio book and their lego collection, or out in the woods pretending to stalk deer.  And they want to have a lot of choice about what they are learning and how and when.

The other part of the puzzle here was that I took a sabbatical from work this year, and during that time our expectations of what would get done in a normal "school" day (many of which are also "work days" for me when I am NOT on sabbatical) ballooned into a much larger thing.  Now that I'm back at work, the expectations for homeschooling time still stayed high - and it's been too much for me to really keep up with so I always feel rushed and harried and like I'm failing at Doing It All, Well.

So, clearly time for a change!

We have scrapped our old routine, and are instead doing:

1.  Morning Basket

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This is one of Charlotte Mason's ideas.  In our interpretation, it is a basket that I fill with different things each week, such as: literature to read out loud, poetry to read out loud, flashcards, sketch books and drawing exercises, educational board games, music to listen to, art books to do picture study with, etc.  These are all the lovely things that sometimes end up feeling like "extras" when we are too invested in "getting curriculum done", and they are also the sort of things that we would want to do together.  We sit down with our basket at the table and spend just about 45 minutes with the contents, give or take depending on the day.  We do it first thing after morning chores and breakfast, so we are all fresh and don't feel too rushed yet.

2.  Daily Files

Daily Work FIles

We had been using an assignment chart that showed all of the months assignments, but a few things were happening: they wouldn't check off something they had done, they would check off something they hadn't done, we would fall really far behind and I would feel the pressure to make them catch up, they would look at it and feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start and freak out.

The daily files are a nice solution to those problems: there is a file for each kid for Monday-Friday and I've torn out the pages from the math books, etc. and put them in for each day. I also write out a short checklist of things that need to be done that don't fit in a file (music practice, language CD's, stuff like that).  When the work is finished it is handed to me to quickly assess and then either recycle it or 3 hole punch it and add it to the growing portfolio of finished work.

They have a very simplified view of their work: what is in today's file?  So far they are cruising through this work on their own without it being a time burden to anyone. 

3.  Unit Studies

Instead of plowing through curriculum for science and history, we are going to do monthly unit studies for each of them, on topics of their choosing.  They will work with me to choose a topic, I will get a bunch of resources from the library for them, then they will work for about an hour a day for 3 weeks on studying the topic how they wish.  Week 4 will be Presentation Week, with a written report and one or two other projects being completed and presented by Friday of that week.  This autonomy and interest-based work makes them much happier, which of course makes us all much happier.  (Their topic choices for November?  He chose "written languages around the world" and she chose "Norse Mythology").

After only one week of the change, so far we are really happy about it!  Sometimes you just need a Change.