Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick-or-Treat is almost over...

Did you have a lot of kids?  We're up to about fifty right now, and I haven't had any in about 15 minutes, so I'm thinking it is almost done.  Last year we had 64 kids come by--yes, I counted!  I had a freak-out moment about twenty minutes ago, afraid I wouldn't have enough candy, but my wonderful next-door-neighbor rescued me with some bags of Hershey's and Milky Ways.  So now, if there are leftovers, well...
Halloween's always more fun with friends!
The kids looooooove Halloween.  We had our Mummies for dinner tonight (thanks, Mary!),

and then took a few pictures.  In a few minutes they'll come tearing back in with full bags.  We'll give them a few minutes to start their most favorite part, The Barter.  This involves sorting and counting and then trading and trading and trading.  It takes days.

This year J held a "Halloween Boot Camp" for his little sister D.  This involved laps around the yard with a four-pound weight in a pillowcase:
It's not every day you have two hot dogs and a queen running around in your back yard.
There was also jumping in your Halloween shoes, maximizing the candy grab, and a discussion of the departure procedure from "interior" and "exterior" doorways.  But the most important part was the discussion of the barter.  Here is the board that J had D make:

When she arrives home, she's supposed to sort her candy into the categories listed on her poster.  This will make her better at trading.  Or that is what J says.  We'll see.
That's Anansi the Spider making an appearance at our front door.  Gotta love when History ties into the holiday!
Happy Halloween!  Time to blow out the pumpkins:

And now, finally, on to Thanksgiving. Time to get my wonderful turkey out, start planning my husband's favorite meal of the year, and lament how once again I'm not doing NaNoWriMo
Hang on, Tom.  I'm coming! 
Oh, and of course I have to "check" the candy, you know, just to be sure...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I got to go to Barcelona last weekend.  Eighteen hours on the plane for three days with my husband in a lovely city--definitely a fair trade-off.  I won't do a travelogue in this post.  Rather, I want to share one of the most wonderful places I have ever seen.

This is La Sagrada Famillia--The Cathedral of the Holy Family.  See the cranes?  It is not done yet.  It was begun in the 1880s, quickly taken on by Antonin Gaudi, and won't be finished until 2026 or so.  I didn't have high expectations:  I thought Gaudi was a show-off, and I didn't think I liked "Modernista" architecture.  I'm so, so glad that I was wrong.  Imagine being invited to stand inside daVinci's "Last Supper" or a Bach requiem.  Gaudi created an ethereal masterpiece of art and worship.

I have been few places where I felt that the appropriate posture was prostrate.  This is one.  Everything about the cathedral is built to point to the majesty of God, the amazing love He has for us, the lordship of Jesus.  I mean everything.  I'm afraid my pictures don't do it justice.  Most of the time it felt distracting to have my camera out.

The West entrance tells the Passion story.  The hard, brutal sculptures are intentional, not merely a reflection of the time in which they were made.  Gaudi, while he didn't sculpt them, gave general instructions for the angular figures with minimal detail.  There is so little detail that small gestures become important, like the Jesus' face leaning against the column in exhaustion.

But the scene is also hopeful.  Jesus is up there, very high between two of the bell towers, ascended already to heaven.

The East entrance, greeting the sun every morning, shows all of creation in celebration of the Birth of Jesus and the Holy Family itself.  One of my favorite scenes here was Joseph and young Jesus together (the picture on the left).  Joseph is remembered throughout the cathedral, something not done very often.

Inside, the nave rises up among columns that look like they are taken straight out of Tolkien.  Gaudi had pioneered these organic hyperbolic arches and curved columns--they give you the effect of being inside a giant forest.  And the sound is incredible.  The organ was awesome, played for a too-short time while we were there.

I return again and again to the idea of Gaudi's that his project should not be limited to only his ideas. Rather than leave plans for every single detail, he left general ideas, planning for later generations to participate in the design of the cathedral.  That was very important to him. The stained glass windows, with their careful selection of color but modern pattern, are a great example.  (Gaudi indicated the color choices but left the actual design for later.)  Incidentally, the east- and west-facing windows have slightly different color schemes.  I think the west, on the left, is more oranges and reds, moving to just a little blue up on the top.  The east-facing window has far more blue, the color of water and life.  (I could have them backwards, but I think that is right.)

Looking back at my pictures, one other thing comes to mind:  isn't it good to know that modern man hasn't lost his ability to make something beautiful and grand purely as a gift to God?  This is a worthwhile pursuit.

The official site is here.  Pictures much more beautiful than anything I could take!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Two months in.

Usually when I'm quiet on my blog for a few days the problem isn't too little to say, it's too much.  I don't know where to start, or, rather, I need to start with something that I'm not really proud of.  I need to start with things that may not sound so nice, or so happy, or so perfect.  That's where I am.

D and I are almost two months in to this homeschool thing.  In case you're wondering, we haven't had any moments of "Oh, Mommy, I've always wanted to study (fill in the blank: birds, horses, ancient Sumer)!  Thank you, oh, thank you!"  First, my seven-year-old doesn't call me Mommy anymore, sadly.  Secondly, she is completely uninterested in anything beyond about twenty minutes.  Pushing string, I tell you.

There are times that I wonder why I'm doing this.  And then there are times I am certain that it is a good way to spend our year.  I compare it to what I know my other children are getting at their private Christian school.  Some of what I provide is not as good: faith formation and religion, for example.  I place a huge premium on surrounding my children with people of faith who can share their views either explicitly (in class) or implicitly (as they lead their lives).  Not everyone can do both.  I think I lean toward the second, and so I know D is missing out.

Science is another great example.  My children's elementary science teacher is without a doubt one of the best natural teachers I've ever met.  She has boundless enthusiasm and curiosity, although I suspect that it is easier when you don't have to live with your student.  I guess I had thought there would be more natural curiosity from my daughter.  Had there been, we might have been okay with the open-ended science curriculum we started the year with.  Three weeks ago I broke down and bought a science curriculum, complete with "notebooking journal," so we could just fill in the blanks.  It is fine. 

But.  That word.  I have to share that the history we are doing is, without a doubt, light-years better than the social studies she would have had at school.  We are doing real, live history, starting at the beginning--nomads, Mesopotamia, the beginning.  We read myths and look up tours of ancient cities on the internet.  We have a chicken mummifying on the kitchen counter (week four, no smell--remarkable!).  She's written in cuneiform and hieroglyphics, and she can tell you the difference between a good king like Hammurabi and a bad one like Shamshi-Adad.  (Ha--so can I!)  She can find the areas we are studying on a world map.  And today we were putting together a time-line of the things we've studied so far, giving her a picture of how the events fit together.  Here is what is bothering me most:  when did we as a society decide NOT to teach this, and instead to teach "My Community, My City, etc.?"  And then--what have my other kids missed out by not learning history in this way?  This bothers me a lot.

The other huge difference from school that I've seen is in our grammar/writing experience.  The emphasis in our grammar curriculum is on memorizing (we are on our second poem of the year right now), and on looking at passages from books to learn parts of speech.  Similarly, the writing curriculum places an emphasis on reading and imitating excellent writing, rather than serving up boring, banal passages that meet some specified word count or reading difficulty.  For example, D's copywork this week was from the wonderful Misty of Chincoteague, and next week's study will include Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow."  D actually checked out Misty today from the library based on reading the selection in our text.  This approach seems to me to make so much sense:  how better to learn to write well than to read and copy well-written sentences?  We do lots of illustrating, so creativity is still important, but the pressure is off the student to create original sentences from idea to word to paper until they are older.  Why is this so different than the "mainstream" approach?

So there you have it, homeschooling as it looks at my house from the vantage point of an early Friday evening on the porch with a glass of wine.  Some very good, some less good.  I have more to share, and now that I've broken my writer's block I'll probably post a half-dozen things in the next two days.  We'll see.