Saturday, July 23, 2016

Summer Adventure by Karen Andreola

Summer Adventure

I do think that families are the most beautiful things in all the world. Jo Marsh in Little Women

During our home-educating years my children gobbled-down books --- each at their own rate but I would still call it gobbling.

One of the stories was E. Nesbit's, The Railway Children, gobbled silently.

"Did you like it," I would ask when the story was finished.

"Yes," would be the reply, coexisting with a smile and a sparkle of an eye. That was that.

Years later we rented the Masterpiece Theatre version of the story. The film is a beautiful adaptation staring Jenny Agutter and Jemima Rooper.  I own the CD (for myself) and so I can share it with my grandchildren, next visit. "Trains" are my eldest grandson's hobby.

The film was my only exposure to The Railway Children, until I read it for the first time, just recently. Had I read it in my youth I would have chosen it as a read-aloud. And chosen it for narration, too. The Railway Children nourished my soul.

The courage and kindness of the characters is what I found so nourishing.

We meet Father in the beginning. He too-soon mysteriously disappears. Mother (a character I quickly became fond of) keeps the secret from her children that Father is falsely accused and imprisoned. She is shaken (secretly.) I could feel her tremble. But Mother musters up courage for the sake of her family.

To cope with living with reduced means, she and her children, Roberta (12), Peter (10), and Phyllis (7), "play at being poor for a bit." They move out of the well-off working-class suburbs of London to live in a little white cottage in the countryside.

The children really don't mind fixing breakfast or tea, doing chores they hadn't done before, because they love and admire their mother.

My fireside kettle like the one above. 
Over Roberta's head, however, during quiet moments, hangs a dark cloud of apprehension concerning Father.

In a bare upstairs room with a candle, Mother strives to write fiction for their bread-n-butter (bread that is now rarely bakery-bought.)

What makes the summer of these Edwardian railway-children so enjoyable? It is a summer of childhood innocence. The children meander around their village unsupervised. This is what children were free to do in the summers of yesteryear, when mothers worked at home, when neighborhoods were safe, entertainment scarce, and a child's activity wasn't rigidly scheduled.

Finding-things-to-do for the railway-children, becomes getting to know the adults who work for the railway. They poke their noses in other people's business, with a sincere desire to be friendly and helpful - and a wish not to be annoying - although this combination isn't always possible. The village station is just down a hill and across the meadow from their cottage - an easy traipse.

Hollyhocks on the sunny side of the house.
Roberta, Peter and Phyllis are very much like real siblings. At times they fret, get scared, disagree, and rub sharp corners off one another. They candidly say just what they're thinking and stick-together with loving team-work when illness or accident arise in the village.

Dean's photo of a dragonfly in our back garden.
Both Mother and children are generous-of-heart. They do what is uncommon today. They look outside themselves. The feelings and needs of others are important to them - so important they take risks for it. Evidently, they've been brought up with a Christian-sense-of-duty. We can call this kindness - and going out-of-one's-way to be kind at that.

I liked seeing our tall hollyhocks through a first floor window.
Involved in some exciting scrapes and daring rescues, they cross the bounds of class without a second thought. Mother might "give pause" but she is prompt to assesses a situation and steps-forward with a confident decisiveness.

Although published in the Edwardian era (1906) E. Nesbit's writing is not overly sentimental - or, as Mark Twain said of women novelists, "sadful." I already knew the ending, but I'll admit the last chapter produced one tiny tear to my eye. That's all. Just one. I wiped it away, closed the book, turned off the light, and fell asleep soundly - glad there exists a story in the world, such as The Railway Children. But would there be if E. Nesbit's husband didn't suffer a similar tragedy and suddenly loose the means of supporting his family? Good can come out of adversity in real life as well as stories.

For both girls and boys, grades 3-7. For your convenience these links take you to Amazon.
Note: The short commentary before and after the film is unnecessary and unwholesome. I would skip it. Young children do not need to know that E. Nesbit was an active socialist and didn't live the morality she penned.

The Railway Children 

The Masterpiece Theatre Film 

A Writing Exercise
Inside the pages of my creative writing curriculum, Story Starters is Exercise #55 - At the Railway Station. What episodes could your student add to the story?

A doll quilt for my granddaughter pieced from scraps from the toddler quilt.
I extend my gratitude to those of you who purchased of Parents' Review for your summer reading. May it stimulate your interests in many directions. I'm always glad to hear from my readers.

Charlotte Mason's The Saviour of the World
If you relish reading about the fine points of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, Art Middlekauff's articles will satisfy. I esteem the height and depth of his contribution. I've recently discovered his blog. Here you will have access to the volumes of Miss Charlotte Mason's impressive poetic work: The Saviour of the World.

A four-patch, hand-quilted with comfortable stitches.
Happy for your visit.
Karen Andreola

Friday, July 1, 2016

Merging Warm Days with My Story Scenes

Merging Warm Days with My Story Scenes
Hi Ladies,

It seems like a long time between visits with you. I've been meeting with family and friends. Meanwhile,warm days and scenes from my stories merge in my mind. And, like vacation traffic merges onto the highway, I am merging photographs - with excerpts from my stories. I hope you find it entertaining. I highlighted the book excerpts in color. I left out some nouns - and - the excerpts are too short  to be "spoilers" for those of you who plan to read one of my "family-education" stories this summer.

I finished the toddler quilt. I enjoyed working with girly colors, piecing and then hand-quilting all 63 little hour-glass-blocks for my granddaughter. I waited until after it I gifted it before showing it here. Her mom reads my posts (on her phone). The placement of the blocks is random and playful.

A way to attach the binding entirely by machine is to make a flange. Sew a strip of binding onto the back, bring it around front to sew along the tiny strip (flange). You can see the white flange along the binding of my quilt. It is supposed to give the look of piping. I made mine wider than recommended - to make sure I could see what I was doing, this first try. I followed the tutorial on The Missouri Star Quilt Company's You-Tube - "Baby Quilt - Flange".

While quilting, Carol's sudden surge of creativity came to mind.

I was feeling creative. With the rest of the fabric I cut triangles. It occurred to me that, pieced with white, they would form a bright patchwork design. . . . A patchwork pillow would make a nice housewarming gift to cheer . . .(Blackberry Inn)

My youngest grandson's vest-of-many-colors was finished in time for his 5th birthday. It is a bit big on him.

He wore it on a cool day in spring during the week I stayed with my daughter's family.

I also gifted him "Frog and Toad Audio Collection" read by its author Arnold Lobel (deceased.)

In the first chapter of Lessons of Blackberry Inn Emma appreciates Carol's knitting.

"You have not been idle. You've been keeping the baby safe. And you've been diligent even in bed. Just look at all these books you've been reading in preparation for teaching the children. You know how to use your time wisely." She carefully lifted my knitting out of its basket. "And look at this pretty sweater. What a lovely rose color!" I had been knitting a cardigan for my daughter, Emily, and was particular about my pinks. Emma held it up to admire it in the sunbeams that streamed in through the windows. It did look pretty in the sunlight, or was it Emma's encouragement that made me appreciate it more? (Blackberry Inn)

In April my pain doctor prescribed physical therapy. I'd been to PT in a previous year with discouraging results. But I've bounced back and am trying a different practice. If I am presented with a contortion I feel I'm simple not ready for I tell my therapist. Otherwise, I trust her wisdom and am doing my homework daily with an orange band. I'm getting stronger, able to kneel on the floor and walk for ten minutes! Dean drove us to Landis Valley one sunny afternoon. We sauntered. He took out the camera. It occurred to me that some of what he photographed are those living things observed or mentioned in my stories.

The dinning room was full of hungry guests . . . One guest, in particular, a gregarious gentleman named Mrs. Fortesquieu, took Michael's mind off his backache. He is a portly man with an out-of-date handlebar moustache. His clothes, thought they look like they've come out of an attic trunk, make a perfect fit. A vigorous conversationalist, he has a deep jovial voice that dominated the others at the table. He was quite appreciative of my "tenderly prepared" fish, raving about the "palatability" of my "exquisite" green salad, impressed with the fact that is was entirely composed of greens we had harvested from the garden. I din't think the nasturtium petals I sprinkled into the salad would cause such a stir. (Pinecones)

Milkweed in bloom - with fluffy-seeds to come.

On another walk . . .  a breeze carried some fluff across our path. Emily jumped and caught a fluff between her cupped hands. She held it out to me saying, "Look, this is from a big dandelion!" I spotted a clump of weeds growing by the railroad tracks nearby and recognized among them, one of my favorite childhood plants: the milkweed. (Pinecones)

I once thought of the Johnny jump-up (wild pansy or heart's-ease) as a weed. They will take over the garden if they get the chance. In a book on Colonial herbs, however, I read that the seed of the Johnny jump-up was advertised in Boston in 1760, and Jefferson reported planting it in his garden in 1767. (Pinecones)

Beyond the geese is a spring house.

Nobody knew where Emma was. Soon after we had served our guests, she had vanished on her bicycle. I thought I had heard her say something about going to the Goslin sisters to bring back more goose down for . . . The Goslins had raised their pretty white geese since I was a girl. I remember hearing my mother talk about their notorious gander. Rumor had it that he would nip the ankles of any stranger who approached wearing trousers, but accepted the visits of all in skirts. This was told to me years back as a possible explanation for why the Goslin sisters never married. (Blackberry Inn)

Sunflower seeds are favorite snack of Dean's. 

Dean has too many food allergies to name. To fill a craving I made gluten-free apple butter muffins with grated carrot, raisins, flavored with molasses. It reminded me of the muffins Carol made for the apple-butter festival in Lessons at Blackberry Inn.

End Notes
Because I make muffins often I decided to order my un-bleached cupcake papers by the three-pack on Amazon.

You can find the Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" Audio Collection there, too.

To learn more about my stories a click will take you to "Karen's Books" here on this blog.

Happy for Your Visit.
Are you getting out in a garden?

Karen Andreola


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder - by Karen Andreola

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder 

Nigel harvesting lettuce from his garden in Maine.

One spring, while I was in a temperamental-cleaning-mood, I stood in the doorway of my son's bedroom. "If I push a snow shovel along the floor we could actually walk in here. Then I could vacuum," I said.

His bedroom floor was regularly strewn with Lego, Tinker-toys, paper airplanes, and other miscellaneous clutter-y-bits.

Nigel was either taking things apart or putting things together.

Indoors, when not reading or eating our son was a boy-builder.

Perhaps you can relate. Is there a boy-builder in your house, or a girl-builder?

Outdoors, in Maine, he dug the foundations for his vegetable garden.

In good weather he added to his "fort" in the woods with an ax (Mom hiding her true colors of squeamishness).
Nigel's fort in springtime was surrounded by ferns.

With a boy-builder's inclination to know how things are made, I guess this is why Nigel was happy I made David Macaulay's The New Way Things Work part of his six grade science curriculum.

 He narrated portions of it. He kept a notebook of written narration, too, shorter though they were than his oral narration.

And because Nigel was a doodler I recommended he carry this impulse further. "Doodle something worthwhile in your science notebook," I told him. I was wearing my teacher's hat. He knew this was more than jest.
In The New Way Things Work, Mr. Macaulay's cartoon woolly mammoth throws his bulk around - offering students a comical introduction to physics. The book is largely illustrated.

It begins with the simple principles behind levers, pulleys, wheels, springs, gears, and so on.

As chapters progress we learn about heat, electricity, magnetism, flight, color photography, telecommunications, how a computer mouse works, and more.

Nigel adds: "I was shown the insides of mechanical devises I'd been wondering about - a microphone, violin, camera, microwave oven, and a car engine."

Curiosity Isn't Cool
Hearing an interview with Mr. Macaulay got me thinking. When asked why the average adult doesn't care how things work, he said, "They're missing that invitation that comes from looking at stuff around them." I detected exasperation in his tone. The interviewer could have asked a better question. One I assumed would be obvious. That is, "Why do young children have the urge to take things apart and find out how they work?"

Charlotte Mason observed how curious young children are. Their curiosity is wonderfully wide awake. Tragically, long before he becomes a complacent adult, the average student is lulled to sleep. How? By boring schoolbooks. And a tedious never-ending-cycle of cram. Educators aren't surprised that, stuck in the middle of the typical textbook-workbook-grind, a child starts to drag his feet. It's the status quo. Low-interest is common. It's to be expected. "I found school boring so there's nothing unusual about my kid hating it," I overheard a parent say with a  nervous chuckle. I shuddered.

Furthermore, in many a government school classroom, peer-opinion rules. It creates an atmosphere. When peers decide curiosity isn't cool, the curious student becomes an odd-ball. Rather than be snubbed, made fun of - or worse - suffer torment by Facebook-gossip, an odd-ball learns to maintain a low-profile.

Visiting a large youth-group, our son and another young man (home taught), were the only ones to volunteer answers to the discussion questions. They hadn't a clue this wasn't cool. It wasn't the "in" thing - even in church to appear alert, interested, or engaged. Evidently, a similar atmosphere of peer-opinion has seeped into some church groups.

Delightfully Different
Many a Charlotte-Mason-minded home-teacher has a child who (delightfully) is an odd-ball. He's an older, curious student. How refreshingly peculiar. She wouldn't brag about it. But if the topic arose, in polite conversation, she would smile and confess that her family lives in a kind of "alternate reality" or "alternate universe" (to borrow from science-fiction). Her homeschool is a vibrant place of learning. Her children are talkative. Sometimes tiresomely so.

What takes place in this alternate universe? With anticipation - within a warm family relationship - her students
delve into living books,
take part in discussion,
develop a train-of-thought with narration,

 It is a principle of education that: suitably satisfied, curiosity stays awake. 

A home-taught student could be an odd-ball because he reads odd books, such as The New Way Things Work. Its 400 pages of scientific facts satisfy the curiosity of the boy-builder.

This year Mr. Macaulay made another update published as The Way Things Work Now. But I am without a copy of it in my hands as I write you.

The Scenic Route
Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you can drive along highway 30 and honestly say you've driven through Amish Country. But what would you have really seen?

Slow down and take the meandering back roads, a few turns off the beaten path, and you will see much more.

Taking the scenic route was our approach to history - for both our son and daughters - who meandered off the beaten textbook path.

History is a string of wars. Wars have significance. But aside from war and its destruction, the scenic route gives a student picturesque tales of construction. David Macaulay's books of historical architecture offer us such a picturesque view.

Some of David Macaulay's books on the back kitchen steps.
The Films
The film versions are an off-shoot of Mr. Macaulay's architectural histories. I showed them (on video) during the upper elementary years - in case I needed to discuss any heathen dark spot depicted in them. Today the films are free on YouTube - where you may preview them. Please, as with anything on YouTube, cautiously take charge.
Mom building an Amish inspried doll quilt. Paper-piecing the rows.
Try Books on for Size
Charlotte Mason's says, "genius is that of taking pains". Mr. Macaulay's willingness to take pains in creating his books is symptomatic of a fascination for his subject. He is an odd-ball adult who never lost his curiosity. This seems pretty-cool to me.
Little guy on tip toe with money in his left hand from the sale of a melon.
I esteem his books as schoolbooks.We see no grade level stamped on the the covers. Good thing, too. This makes it easier for me to invite you to use them for a range of ages. Try them on for size. If they make a good fit - grade school or high school - feel no qualms about what age your children are.

Basting from the center out so the pins can be removed and hand-quilting begin.
Does Your Child Drag His Feet?
A student needn't be particularly fond of all his lessons. He can gain the power of self-discipline to complete a lesson that is hard or less interesting.

Stars quilted plainly, purple squares quilted fancy with black thread.
But, if Miss Mason had anything to say about it, there ought to also be something of interest in his diet of new knowledge. Is your child generally lacking in curiosity? This can be discouraging. I offer you my sympathy. May I make a recommendation? Don't be anxious to hurry down the highway. Go the scenic route. Homeschooling allows you freedom to explore. Keep looking until you find your student's something.

Do some of what you have to do,
With some of what you  like to do.
And you will do well.

Quilting, Etc.
The toddler quilt (in girly colors) and knitted vest (both not shown) are ready for upcoming birthdays. We've had a week of a clouds, rain, fog, and overcast days. When the parlor is bright again I hope to take out the camera to show you the the toddler quilt, next.
Pin-cushion filled with alfalfa seeds to hold her new basting pins.
A click on The New Way Things Work  will take you to the David Macaulay's page on Amazon where you can read about PyramidCathedral, City, and Castle, too. 
The Amish doll quilt in the shadows of the front hall and stairway.
Post Script: Our boy-builder is age 27. He now builds web-sites. 

Seeking to Minister and Stay in Touch,
Karen Andreola