Sunday, 20 August 2017

Ambleside Online Year 7: plans & modifications

Whenever I start planning a new year of home education I'm reminded again of the fact that each of my children are unique and what might have been good for one may not be the right choice for another at the same age. So just when I thought I should have all this figured out the seventh time around, I've been mulling over a few niggling thoughts I've had about Moozle's Year 7 content, trying to discern what is best for this girl of mine:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11

We're going into Week 4 tomorrow and I wanted to wait for a few weeks before I posted what we'll be doing to see how my ideas work out in practice. I've made a few adjustments for different reasons, which I'll explain as I go, while still keeping to the basic structure of Ambleside Online Year 7 (because Years 7 & 8 are two of my favourite AO years!)
The main changes are:

Devotional Reading

I've used the first two books on the AO schedule for this year with Moozle's older siblings but the more I thought and prayed about what I should be doing, the more I've felt sure that what she needs at the moment lies in the way of story. It's not so much that the books are challenging - she's an advanced reader - but it's the spiritual aspects and the 'didactic' approach that I don't think she's ready for. Biographies, on the other hand, I know she will relate to. These are the books we'll be using instead - the first two (set in India & China respectively) serve the double purpose of devotional reading and books set in Asia/Pacific, which I cover because of their proximity to Australia and our connections with people from that area. (I've linked to reviews I've written on some of them):

* Ten Fingers for God by Dorothy Wilson

** The Small Woman by Alan Burgess

*** The Root of the Righteous by A.W. Tozer - now this isn't a biography but I've included this in third term as an introduction to the devotional book scene because it's a book I love and Tozer uses the analogy of the tree and its fruit so the book has the feel of a parable.


We'll be doing the AO scheduled readings (scroll down the page) except for The Magna Carta. Instead I'll schedule this book over a few weeks because I have it & it's good. (181 pages)

Science & Natural History

We won't be doing First Studies of Plant Life or Adventures with a Microscope and will be substituting a couple of Australian titles:

A Bush Calendar by Amy Mack
First Studies in Plant Life by William Gillies. This is different to the one mentioned above (both the Aussie titles are free online)

We're also doing Apologia's Anatomy & Physiology and using some of these free resources I put together a couple of years ago for her brother. I usually do this in Year 6 but I didn't want Moozle to miss out on the excellent Science selections scheduled in that year. I'll be cutting out some of the activities in the Apologia book, I think.

Fine Arts

We'll be using the books pictured below for Music & Architecture in addition to our regular composer & picture study.

The Gift of Music by Jane Stuart Smith & Betty Carlson - I'm reading this aloud & this term we'll just be covering a few Baroque composers.

Cathedral by David Macaulay

String, Straight Edge, & Shadow by Julia E. Diggins - scroll down to see an overview of the book on the link. This is really the story of geometry but it dovetails nicely with the study of architecture and helps the reader to appreciate the significance of the Golden Mean in art and architecture...

Architecture by Gladys Wynne - I'd heard about this book but it's out of print and I really didn't know how useful it would be until one of the lovely ladies on the AO Forum posted a link to Archives and I had a chance to view it before I bought it from Amazon in the UK.


Julius Caesar 
Richard the Third


We're still reading the Life of Julius Caesar and have three more weeks left until we finish. We'll have a break before we start another life and just concentrate on Shakespeare for awhile.

French & Latin

We're continuing with French for Children B and there's quite a bit of grammar included so our English grammar study is taking a back seat for the time being.
We're still slowly going through Our Roman Roots by James R. Leek.

The Harp & Laurel Wreath by Laura M. Berquist is one of my favourite poetry anthologies and I take turns reading aloud this and the one in the picture above aloud.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Ten Fingers for God by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (1965)

Ten Fingers for God explores the life and work of Dr. Paul Brand, who was born in India to missionary parents, lived there until he was sent to school in England, and later returned to work and teach at a medical college in the southern Indian city of Vellore. 
Surgeon, teacher, and environmentalist, Dr. Brand achieved fame mostly for his pioneering research on the disease of leprosy. As a child growing up in the mountains of Madras, (re-named Chennai) he witnessed an incident which remained in his memory, a potent reminder of the awful plight and stigma for victims of leprosy. 
When Paul was nine years of age, his family had a furlough in England. A few months later, his parents returned to India while he and his younger sister, Connie, remained with relatives in order to go to school. They never saw their father again as he died of Blackwater Fever a few years later.

Paul disliked study and the school routine. He was used to the freedom of life in India where he'd sit up in a tree to do his lessons and pass his work down to his mother sitting on the ground underneath. He refused to conform, and his reports consisted of remarks such as "Poor, fair, rather disappointing; Next term we shall hope for better things."  

It wasn't books that Paul disliked, merely school books. He read avidly, often on the way to school, with such eagerness that he often ran into people. His taste in literature was respectable if not highbrow, tending largely toward adventure takes such as The Coral Islands and Westward Ho! He liked Dickens but abhorred Scott. In fact, English, next to the sciences, was his favourite subject. 

Paul tended to shine more in less admirable activities...climbing, avoiding school sports and performing dangerous science experiments in the playroom of his aunts' immaculate and genteel residence!

Paul's mother hoped he would train to be a doctor. His father had wanted to do this himself, at one time starting a course at Madras University, but Paul had no intention of becoming a doctor. The memory of his father's medical work repulsed him - pus, ulcers, blood. He decided to leave school and train to be a builder. 
After five years of training he applied to the mission board but was rejected as 'not being ready.' The two options open for him were Bible School and a short course in tropical medicine. He didn't want to do either... but he remembered his father. 

Jesse Brand had left the building trade for what he considered a nobler calling. He had prepared for his work by taking a short course in tropical medicine. His son would do the same. 

Paul found that he loved the work and the study, and his whole attitude to medical work changed. In 1937, on the eve of World War II, he was accepted into the University College Medical School in London. Here he was to meet his future wife, Margaret, their courtship taking place in the midst of evacuations and bombings, and their marriage in 1943. The war gave the young surgeon experience that would normally have taken years to acquire, and when the V-I bombs came flying over London, he was operating almost constantly, repairing gun wounds, cuts and other acute injuries. It was during this time that he became profoundly interested in the repair of severed nerves and tendons, especially in hands and feet. The skill and expertise he acquired was to serve him well in his work with leprosy patients later on. 

I really enjoy medical missionary biographies and this book is a re-read. Most of my children have read it also, usually around the age of 12 years or a little older, and I've assigned it to Moozle this term. 
Dorothy Clarke Wilson has written an engaging, joy-filled story, capturing Paul's earthy upbringing, his father's enthusiasm for nature - which he passed onto his son - his mother's dynamic personality and passion, Paul's love for the people he worked with and those he served; his struggles to overcome the stigma associated with leprosy, and his disappointments. The book also describes the disease of Leprosy (also known as Hansen's Disease), its mode of transmission, treatment, and its history. I would have loved to have read this when I was twelve!

Some highlights: 

" ...the most precious possession any human being has is his spirit, his will to live, his sense of dignity, his personality. Once that has been lost the opportunity for rehabilitation is lost. Though our profession may be a technical one, concerned with tendons, bones, and nerve endings, we must realize that it is the person behind it that is so important. Of course we need technicians: surgeons, physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists, vocational guidance specialists. But above all we need men and women who are concerned with people and who accept the challenge of the whole person, his life, his faith, and his hope." 

John, an older, almost blind patient, came to Paul and begged to have his claw hand opened. Paul said that there were so many able-bodied young men coming for surgery... "Your hands would take a lot of time, because they're stiff. And suppose, we did open them out, how could you use them? If you can't see or feel..."
But the old man persisted...

"I believe I could bring music to people...I use to be able to play the organ, and I'm sure that if you open my fingers, I could play again."
"Without being able to feel or see?" Paul had to be brutally honest. "I'm sorry, John, but how could you possibly play?"
The clawed hands crooked in a beseeching gesture. "I know how you feel, doctor, but - please just give me a chance."

Paul was unable to resist, and he operated with great misgivings on John's hands, the results being moderately successful.
John asked to be led to an organ and he sat at the keyboard while his nerveless hands fumbled and produced some discordant sounds. Paul was glad John couldn't see the pity on his face...

Then suddenly the organ swelled, not merely into melody but into the full harmony of the glorious hymn, "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun." And as the music came flooding out of the crude little box there spread over the uplifted face an ineffable smile of oracle and satisfaction. Paul almost wept.

We're using this book in the first term of AmblesideOnline Year 7 as a devotional read and as a book set in Asia.

Linking to 2017 Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge


Thursday, 10 August 2017

Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar - a 'creative' narration

We've just finished Week 9 of Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar using Anne White's very helpful study guide. The study of Plutarch would never have been on my radar (as I explained here) but I was persuaded to have a try, at least, when I read how highly his writing was regarded by Charlotte Mason. '...perhaps nothing outside of the Bible has the educational value of Plutarch's Lives,' - that's what I'd call high praise!

 School Education by Charlotte Mason, pg 235

More recently I questioned how well Plutarch's Lives was going to work with just my daughter and me as I've been used to having at least one teenager, sometimes three, joining in for the last six years. I think it is easier with more children in the mix, all taking turns narrating, but it has been going quite well this year with just the two of us.

Reading Plutarch isn't easy. I've always read it aloud and I've often thought to myself, "How can my kids understand this when I struggle with it myself?" But, funnily enough, although it's tough at times, Plutarch has been the originator of some great conversations and interesting written narrations. His vocabulary is so lush and expressive...'fardel.' I knew my daughter would use this word in her narration today - she latched onto the word as I read about Cleopatra being smuggled into Caesar's palace wrapped up in one. I had a good laugh reading over this today. 'It is past the hour of midnight, and I am still in my toga.'

Winter, the month of the two-headed god Janus, 48 B.C

In which much befalls me, and I meet the beautiful, divine, majestic, Cleopatra.

I, Julius Caesar, take my pen in hand to recount the day’s adventures.
I am sitting at my desk, writing this diary. It is past the hour of midnight, and I am still in my toga. Cleopatra is reclining in the room next to mine. Yesterday, I sent a message to her, asking her to meet me at the castle I am now in. She arrived this afternoon. The first notice I had of her arrival was a slave, who marched into my castle gatehouse, carrying a long, rolled up fardel. I stared at him, amazed. I asked him, “What, by Jupiter, is that?!”
The slave ignored me, and placed the fardel carefully on the ground, and started to slowly, and gently unfold it. Curious, I watched him silently. Suddenly, I gasped! The slave had finished unrolling his bundle, and out of it came Cleopatra, helped upright by her faithful slave! She advanced towards me, while I stood staring, my mouth hanging open. She took my arm, and we proceeded towards the banquet hall in severe silence. However, I soon recovered myself, and by the time we walked into supper, and we were talking without restraint, about her voyage, how surprised I had been, how I had not expected her to come like she did, and so on, and so on.
Suddenly, as we were sitting together, a slave came and whispered in my ear, a serious expression on his face. I hastily got up, excused myself, and left the room. I came back about twenty minutes later, with a nonchalant, I-have-done-nothing expression. Cleopatra looked at me suspiciously, then stared at my knife. I looked down at it, too, then hastened to explain.

“Oh dear…um, er, it’s ah, harrumph, nothing…cough, cough, ‘scuse me, um, just a little ah, um, well . . . ah, um, er, ahh, yes, a, I mean, one of my servants was er, um, killing a, ah, cough, cough, ‘scuse me, a, er pig, yes, um, er ah, harrumph, a pig . . .”
After this rather disjointed explanation, I dashed from the room, and ran to the bathroom, to wash the blood off my blade. I must admit, I gave a rather false account to Cleopatra, but I did not want her worrying. The blood one my dagger was human, and it was one of two men who had been in a plot to kill me. I had therefore disposed of one of them. My faithful slave who had told me of the plot in the banqueting room, was naturally suspicious by nature, and had, by prowling around (when he probably should have been looking after affairs of my household) uncovered this plot and saved my life.
I went back to supper, avoided the gaze of Cleopatra for the rest of the night, and then went to bed with a sense of relief. I fear, though, that she probably guessed the truth from my dagger. That is all the events of the day. I will most certainly have an eventful day on the morrow, however, for I think that I will be engaged in a battle.

Winter, Janus, 47 B.C
In which there is a battle, a fire, and I save some books from the library of Alexandria.

It was bitterly cold today. It is still cold, so I will make this entry as short as possible, so I may get to bed, sooner.
 I have succeeded in my purpose to get Cleopatra’s throne back from her usurping brother. Also, we just had a baby boy, Ptolemy Caesar, or Caesarion. I was made dictator of Rome for the second time. I had a battle with king Pharnaces, and I won. I sent to Rome the words,
“Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came, I saw, I conquered.”
In the battle, my troops were routed at the start, and I was forced to swim to get away from the archers, and in the confusion, the great library of Alexandria was set on fire, but I managed to save some books, though they are rather worse for wear, having been on my head in the water while I was swimming away from the archers, so they are drenched, and have arrow holes!

Cleopatra Before Caesar by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866

See Vera's Doll Stories for a 'doll narration' of Cleopatra & Caesar.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Radio Rescue by Jane Jolly; Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Radio Rescue was published in November, 2016, and is a successful collaboration between author Jane Jolley and illustrator Robert Ingpen. (Tea and Sugar Christmas, published in 2014, was another book they worked on together).
Radio Rescue is an exquisitely illustrated book that captures the uniqueness of outback Australia while presenting an important piece of history. The story takes place in the 1930's on a remote station in the outback where young Jim lives with his Mum and Dad. Although they all enjoy life where they are, it sometimes gets lonely for them all and their isolated position is a concern that hovers in the background, especially if medical attention should ever be required.
Then one day a 'pedal radio' arrives bringing with it the ability to communicate by tapping out morse code with the hands while powering the machine by foot. All of a sudden they were connected to the outside world! Jim is told he has to wait until he is older before he can use the machine but when Dad is thrown from his horse and breaks his leg, Jim needs to try to get help and manages to do so using the new radio.

As usual, Robert Ingpen has captured the Australian landscape in an understated, powerful way. The book is lavishly illustrated in full colour and detailed pencil sketches, and in a similar fashion to Tea & Sugar Christmas, some of the pages fold out double.

At the end of the book there is a section detailing the elationship between the Reverend John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission and Alf Traegar as they worked together on the idea of providing a form of communication for people in isolated areas.
The author explains here how the idea for the book came to be and the books she used to research the pedal radio.

  This website has a picture of a pedal-powered radio being used in 1937

Radio Rescue is a worthy addition to any curriculum covering Australian History in the primary years especially for age 10 years and under. The story line is simple but there is much to interest a wide range of ages, including some action and a young hero who saves the day. The historical aspects are intriguing and would interest any child with a penchant for invention, as well as providing some interesting rabbit trails.
Highly recommended!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Free stuff for the Study of the Human Body - Updated

Some free stuff we're using for studying the human body:

August 2017: some of the links I originally put here don't work anymore so here are the updated ones:

The website contained the text from 'Your Body & How it Works' by Dr. J. D. Ratcliff, the author of  I Am Joe's Body but I haven't been able to link to it lately.

I did find that I Am Joe's Body is now available at, which wasn't available when I last covered Anatomy & Physiology.

Khan Academy also have a series of videos on Human Anatomy & Physiology - I haven't viewed these yet but they look like they are for upper level highschool.

The next three videos cover Genetics. They are done quite well but if viewing with a younger child check the third one as it explains fertilisation. It's tastefully done and shouldn't be a problem:

The next two are videos on the Integumentary System. The first one explains the layers of the skin and the second how first, second and third degree burns affect the skin.

This one is a journey through the human eye which I thought was one of the simplest and best explanations I've come across. It only covers the main parts of the eye but enough to make its function clear.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess (1957)

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess is an inspiring and very well-written biography of Gladys Aylward, missionary to China for twenty years. In her mid-twenties she went through a probationary period at the China Inland Mission in London but was rejected on account of her lack of qualifications and the belief that at her age the Chinese language would be extremely difficult to learn. Still, Gladys felt called by God to go China and although bitterly disappointed at first, she wasn't going to let this stop her.
She was a parlourmaid and didn't earn much money so she decided upon the cheapest possible mode of transport and took herself to a travel agent to make her first payment towards a ticket. He tried to tell her that although her chosen route via the Trans-Siberian railway was the cheapest option, it wasn't possible due to a conflict between Russia and China.

"I couldn't really care about a silly old war," she had said. "It's the cheapest way, isn't it? That's what I want. Now, if you'll book me a passage, you can have this three pounds on account, and I'll pay you as much as I can every week."
"We do not," the clerk had replied, choosing his words with the pedantic care of the extremely irritated, "like to deliver our customers-dead!"
She had stared up at him. His acidulousness had no effect whatsoever. She was quite logically feminine about it all. "Oh, they won't hurt me," she said. "I'm a woman. They won't bother about me."

She set out in 1930 after paying for her ticket in full. She was thirty years old, alone, and with only one contact in China - seventy-three year old Jeannie Lawson, a widow who had stayed on in China after her husband died. Gladys had written to her and Mrs Lawson said that if she could make her way to China, Gladys could stay with her. With no financial resources or official backing, and no knowledge of the Chinese language, she left England, boarded a train at The Hague, and crossed into Siberia ten days later.
Her intention was to take the train all the way across Siberia and then board a steamer for Tientsin in China, but a brief undeclared war between China and Russia over possession of the China Eastern Railway brought her rail trip to an end near the Manchurian border.
Unable to proceed any further, her only option was to walk back along the railway track to the last town, which she did in the bitter cold and dark, camping in the open overnight, wrapped in the fur rug made by her mother out of an old coat, and using her suitcases as a windbreak while she slept. She eventually reached the town of Chita and after some misunderstandings and frightening experiences with officials, who thought that the word 'missionary' on her passport implied she worked with 'machinery' and so would be a good asset in Russia, she went on her way to Vladivostok. Here a young woman, who was a complete stranger to her, warned her to leave Russia straight away or she would never get out. The woman told her to seek passage on a Japanese ship docked at the harbour and after explaining her situation to the captain, Gladys was given free passage to Japan.
Her experiences in Russia shocked her and left her with a sense that the people were downtrodden and wretched.

'For her the cold wind which sifted through the streets carrying on its breath the desolation of Siberia epitomised Russia. She felt in her bones the bewilderment and hopelessness of so many of its people. She could not canalise her feelings into a coherent, critical appraisal; she only knew how desperately she wanted to leave this country.'

Gladys did finally arrive in China after a brief stay in Japan, and found her way to Yancheng where Mrs Lawson lived and together they opened an Inn (The Inn of Eight Happinesses) where traders stayed overnight, heard the gospel and then went on their way over the mountains to tell others.
Eight months later Mrs Lawson died and Gladys was placed a precarious position financially. She was saved from possible disaster when the local Mandarin paid her a visit and asked her to be his official 'foot inspector.' Gladys was basically given carte blanche in this position; two soldiers accompanied her on her expeditions into the countryside to ensure that the Mandarin's orders outlawing foot binding were carried out, and she used these times to spread the Gospel, becoming known and beloved by all as she did so.

These were times of great satisfaction for Gladys. She loved China and its people, learnt to speak multiple dialects fluently and fully identified with her adopted country when she became a Chinese citizen in 1936.

'...Gladys had not merely learnt the language; she had embedded herself in it like a stone in a fruit. The language had grown around her.'

In 1938 war came to China when the Japanese invaded:

'The policy of the Japanese was plain. For years they had operated their 'master' race policies in their northern colony of Korea. The Japanese were aristocrats, the Koreans serfs! No Korean was educated above an elementary  level; no Korean ever held an administrative post of any importance; they were reduced to a proletarian and peasant level and kept there. Hitler was putting the same theories into operation on the other side of the world. The same treatment was already accorded those areas of North China in the enemy's grasp.'

Some of the many highlights of the book are Gladys going into a prison, quaking in her boots, to quell a riot led by a huge man running around with a machete; leading a hundred homeless children on a twelve day march over the mountains to the Yellow River, the colourful descriptions of the China and the Chinese culture, and her relationship with the local Mandarin, who she eventually led  to Christ.
She became known by the name Ai-weh-deh, the virtuous one, and remained in China until 1947, a witness of the end of a Chinese era that lasted for forty centuries.

Japan withdrew from China in 1945 but civil war continued to rage between the Nationalists and the Reds. These were heartbreaking years for Gladys; the Communists saw Christians as enemies and maltreated and persecuted them:

'She saw the faith of her friends and converts outlawed and attacked by every moral and physical means imaginable, by a godless philosophy with its lunatic assertion that "the ends justifies the means."'

The Small Woman is a remarkable, inspiring story. I read this book years ago and so did my older children, but I'd forgotten about it until Brandy @Afterthoughts mentioned that she was thinking of using it as a devotional book for one of her children. I decided to read it again to see if it was as good as I remembered. I wasn't disappointed.

There is so much to be gained from this story, and I especially recommend it for girls around the ages of  twelve or thirteen years and up. Our young women are surrounded by a culture that encourages them to push for their rights, to smash through the 'glass ceiling,' to be the best they can be, to prove they are just as good as men and are quite capable of doing anything they can do. I don't have an issue with equality, or capability, but I've been reading in Matthew 10, which obviously applies to both male and female:

"The one who finds his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life because of me will find it."

Gladys Aylward knew she had work to do and that God had called her. She went against everything her culture expected of her, not to gain recognition or to be be able to say, 'I was the first women ever to do this.' When the door to missionary work closed in her face she didn't complain that she was discriminated against but believed that God would make a way when there was no way - because she was willing to lose her life. In fact, in the midst of the upheaval of war and persecution in China, she wrote this to her family:

'Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on. These are my people; God has given them to me, and I will live or die with them for Him 
and His Glory.'

A word on age suitability

A few situations to be aware of, although I must say that some of them were quite powerful demonstrations of God's intervention:

Gladys spent some time serving as a 'Rescue Sister' on the docks. '...she hardly knew how they 'fell' or what she was supposed to be rescuing them from...and the drunken sailors under the blotchy yellow street lamps...were just as likely to mistake her for a prostitute and act accordingly.'

Japanese soldiers broke into the mission's women's court intent on rape, 'with struggling screaming women in various stages of undress.' The soldiers didn't succeed - I love what happened here!

A Chinese Christian was forced to watch when the Japanese set fire to his house while his wife and children were inside.

There are some good biographies on Gladys Aylward's life for younger children (that I'll write about later) but I highly recommend this one at some stage.
Out of print but available secondhand.

Linking up with Cloud of Witnesses Reading Challenge and Back to the Classics 2017  - Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Review of AmblesideOnline Year 6 - the second time around

This is the second time we've done AO Year 6. I wrote about Benj's beefed up Year 6 here. He was 13 years of age at the time so I made a few alterations to accomodate that. Moozle is 12 years old, and although I made some modifications here and there, most of what she did followed the schedule at AmblesideOnline.
The AO Geography schedule changed during the year and as we'd already done Halliburton's Book of Marvels the year before, (see my Pinterest page for some resources I put together) this is what we actually did:

Ist Term:

The Story of David Livingstone by Vautier Golding

2nd & 3rd Term:

A Child's Geography of the Holy Land by Ann Voscamp & Toni Peckover

I've used this before & focussed mostly on the readings and mapping the various locations. Moozle also enjoyed making some of the recipes included in the book. This book meshed nicely with the study of the Ancients in Year 6.

And she started a Geography notebook:

History Tales/Biography

We stopped using Trial & Triumph a few years ago and Moozle continued with Passion for the Impossible, a Year 5 read that we didn't get to finish.
In place of Genesis, Finding Our Roots, she read the alternative AO suggestion Ben Hur.


We finished the final three chapters of History of Australia & followed AO's History schedule.
For Asian studies she read, Little Brother by Allan Baillie, which is set in Cambodia.

Australian Literature:

Golden Fiddles by Mary Grant Bruce (1928)

Natural History & Science:

We followed the AO recommendations and they were some of her favourite books.

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson, adapted by Anne Terry White - I read this aloud, skipping the first chapter. Actually I gave her a basic outline of the evolutionary beliefs outlined in that first section and she laughed and said, "There was a big bang and all the fishes turned into men!"
It is an exceptional book in many ways but it needs some up to date explanations in places, thank you, YouTube! I made a playlist relating to the chapters here.
My Occeanography & Marine Biology Pinterest board has some other links also.
A picture of the copy I have & the table of contents:


We also made good use of The University of Nottingham's periodic videos when reading The Elements and The Mystery of the Periodic Table. Over the course of both these books Moozle wrote down the elements she learned on this free downloadable blank PDF of the Periodic Table.
(Edited to add: Interactive Periodic Table - in pictures & words)
Moozle has made regular entries into her science notebook which she started in Year 5. I wrote a post about some of her notebooks here.

I read aloud My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - some editing done on the go, but it's a fun and interesting book.

We continue to use The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock plus the following Australian titles:

Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies & Robert Hall

This one was great when we did some nature study at the beach earlier this year:

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling by John Muir Laws - I was unsure whether to buy this book as I didn't know how much use we'd get out of it but we watched a couple of John Muir Law' videos on Youtube and they were helpful so I bought it. The book contains much that can be used wherever you live - drawing and watercolour techniques, as well as the use of other art media; observation skills, types of materials to use, working in the open & making fast and accurate field sketches; drawing landscapes. There are a few examples (some birds, a bear) that are specific to the USA, or not found here in Australia, but the methods he uses to demonstrate how to draw and journal are universal. It was definitely a good buy! Moozle has been working her way through it & has picked up many useful hints.

 Not an Aussie bird, but learning some skills with watercolour and composition...


Health: We read this book together: The Care & Keeping of You 2 

Maths:  Continuing with Saxon 76 after about five years of Singapore Maths.


We listened to a recording and read along with the script and then watched this movie. It was on Youtube but it looks like it's been removed.


We're about half way through Julius Caesar so will continue that. This life seems a bit longer than some of the others we've done but it's a good one to study especially as he's been around in a few of the Year 6 books.


At the beginning of the year we started French for Children B, published by Classical Academic Press after completing French for Children A. It's excellent.


A combination of Getting Started With Latin and Our Roman Roots by James R. Leek, an out of print curriculum I've used off and on for a number of years.


We haven't done a lot of English grammar this year as the French curriculum we're using has plenty,  and since starting French for Children, her understanding of grammar has jumped significantly. When we do cover grammar, it's with Easy Grammar Plus by Wanda C. Phillips, which I started using with Benj about eight years ago & continue to use. It's different to many other grammar programmes in that it gets students to identify prepositions & prepositional phrases before anything else & once that's done it's so much easier to identify other parts of speech.

Free Reading (besides the AO list) Books marked with an * are 'highly recommended.'

Devils' Hill by Nan Chauncy (set in Tasmania)
The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne *
Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott
The Cargo of the Madalena by Cynthia Harnett
How They Kept the Faith by Grace Raymond
The Adventures of Shelock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle *

These Agatha Christie novels are in the Tommy & Tuppence series:
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie*
N or M? by Agatha Christie *
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie*

The following books are by L.M. Montgomery:

Emily of New Moon *
Emily Climbs *
Emily's Quest *
Kilmeny of the Orchard

Moozle says 'Of course I'd highly recommend every Biggles book!!' *****

Biggles & the Blue Moon
Biggles and the Missing Millionaire
Biggles Takes a Hand

All the Biggles' titles above are out of print.

Friday, 21 July 2017

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (1956)

Gerald Durrell, (1925-1995) a pioneering naturalist, conservationist, and author, was born in India in 1925, the youngest of four children. Both his parents were of British descent but were also born in India, and having a limited experience of England, considered India to be their true home.
When Gerald was three years of age, his father died of a cerebral haemorrhage and his mother took the family and moved to England.
My Family and Other Animals is Gerald's account of his family's five year stay on the Greek island of Corfu.  He was ten years of age at the time, his eldest brother Larry was twenty-three; Lesley, nineteen, and Margo, eighteen.
From an early age Gerald possessed an ardent interest in the natural world and was obsessed with animals and all sorts of living creatures. During his time on Corfu he made a special study of zoology and kept a large number of various creatures as pets, much to the disgust and dismay of some of the other members of the family. My Family and Other Animals is one of the numerous books he wrote about his animal adventures and various exploits, but it is also a highly entertaining portrayal of his family and how they interacted. We enjoyed spending some time with the Durrell family as I read this book aloud although some editing was required for my 12 year old as we went.
We had a good laugh at his description of his mother's bathing costume which one of her sons said looked like 'a badly skinned whale,' and which inflated like a balloon when she went into the water...'an airship of frills and tucks.'

Mother was vague and incredibly mild for all she had to endure and tended to be dominated by her eldest son, Larry, a writer. It was he who decided the family needed to leave the miserable English climate and head for the Continent:

...Larry was designed by Providence to go through life like a small, blond firework, exploding ideas in other people's minds, and then curling up with cat-like unctuousness and refusing to take any blame for the consequences. He had become increasingly irritable as the afternoon wore on. At length, glancing moodily round the room, he decided to attack Mother, as being the obvious cause of the trouble.
'Why do we stand this bloody climate?' he asked suddenly, making a gesture towards the rain-distorted window. 'Look at it! And if it comes to that, look at us...Margo swollen up like a plate of scarlet porridge...Leslie wandering around with fourteen fathoms of cotton wool in each ear...Gerry sounds as though he's had a cleft palate from birth...And look at you: you're looking more decrepit and hag-ridden every day.'
Mother peered over the top of a large volume entitled Easy Recipes from Rajputana.
'Indeed I'm not,' she said indignantly.
'You are,' Larry insisted; 'you're beginning to look like an Irish washerwoman...and your family looks like a series of illustrations from a medical encyclopedia.'

Life sounded pretty idyllic for Gerry, and his naturalist bent had plenty of scope with scorpions, toads, snakes, various birds, bats, butterflies, geckos, sea creatures, tortoises and porpoises making their appearance during his stay on the island.  His education was conducted at home by various interesting & eccentric tutors. One of them, Peter, was more interested in Gerald's sister, Margo, than in his young charge, but I thought this description of the tutor's own education on the island was delightful:

'With the summer came Peter to tutor me, a tall, handsome young man, fresh from Oxford, with decided ideas on education which I found rather trying to begin with. But gradually the atmosphere of the island worked its way insidiously under his skin, and he relaxed and became quite human. At first the lessons were painful to an extreme: interminable wrestling with fractions and percentages, geological strata and warm currents, nouns, verbs, and adverbs. But, as the sunshine worked its magic on Peter, the fractions and percentages no longer seemed to him an overwhelmingly important part of life and they were gradually pushed more and more into the background; he discovered that the intricacies of geological strata and the effects of warm currents could be explained much more easily while swinmming along the coast, while the simplest way of teaching me English was to allow me to write something each day which he would correct.'

Durrell had a way with similes. These are a few that took our fancy:

'The plane, like a cumbersome overweight goose, flew over the olive-groves, sinking lower and lower.'

'...the three dogs hung out their pink tongues and panted like ancient, miniature railway engines.'

'The Magenpies had been through the room as thoroughly as any Secret Service agent searching for missing plans. Piles of manuscript and typing paper lay scattered about the floor like drifts of autumn leaves...The Magenpies could never resist paper. The typewriter stood stolidly on the table, looking like a disembowelled horse in a bull ring...'

'Then came Mother, wearing an enormous straw hat, which made her look like an animated mushroom...'

'They squatted there like two obese, leprous Buddhas, peering at me and gulping in the guilty way that toads have.'

One day, Mr Kralefsky, one of Gerald's tutors, informed Mother that he had taught Gerald as much as he was able and the time had come for him to go somewhere like England or Switzerland to finish his education:

'In desperation I argued against any such idea; I said I liked being half-educated; you were so much more surprised at everything when you were ignorant.'

Mother was adamant and so the family returned to England with the words of a border official, 'One travelling Circus and Staff' written on their 'Desription of Passengers' document.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2017, Classic about an Animal and The Classics Club 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang (1997)

Red Scarf Girl is a young girl's account of her life between the age of 12 to 14 years during the Cultural Revolution which began in 1966 when she was in the sixth grade. Up until then, Ji Li Jiang had lived a comfortable and happy family life in Shanghai. She excelled in her school studies and athletics, and was looking forward to a bright future.
Almost overnight, her way of life fell apart, and she was faced with choices that were totally confusing to a young girl. Ji-Li later became one of those now known as the 'lost generation,' an entire group of young people who were separated from their families and forced to forfeit their education when they were sent into the countryside to perform manual labour.

'After ten years of sacrifice in the primitive countryside most of these young people returned to the city with little education, few skills, and no beliefs. All regretted the waste of their youth, and all have struggled to start over again.'

Mao Ze-dong had led the Communist Party since 1949, but when his economic measures proved to be calamitous for the country and his rivals began to be more powerful, he implemented the Cultural Revolution or 'The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution' to re-establish his authority.
For ten years this policy produced absolute chaos and social upheaval as masses of young people were mobilised into Red Guards who waged war against the "four olds” - old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas.
This is the true story of the impossible dilemmas Ji Li and her family faced as a result of Mao's policy, told simply with a child-like innocence and transparency.
For Ji-Li and others like her, Chairman Mao was God. It wasn't until Mao died that they realised they had been brainwashed and that the Cultural Revolution was basically a power struggle and they had been manipulated.
I've read numerous books on this time period but this is the first one I've read through a young girl's eyes. It doesn't go into great detail about the atrocities committed during this time period, but it does give a very personal account of what the author and her family and friends went through, including her father's imprisonment, beatings, humiliations, and the suicide of an elderly neighbour who threw herself out of a window.
At one point she describes how she thought that she didn't want to live but she had promised her mother that she would take care of her younger siblings if anything happened. She came to a point where her goals didn't matter to her and seemed unimportant:

'Now my life was defined by my responsibilities. I had promised to take care if my family, and I would renew that promise every day. I would not give up or withdraw, no matter how hard life became. I would hide my tears and my fear for Mom and Grandma's sake. It was my turn to take care of them.'

It's a little difficult but to know what age range it would be best for, partly because of the way it's written, (i.e. in a young girl's voice) but I think about age 13 or 14 years and up. The effect of the advent of the Red Guards on the school students would make for a valuable discussion, with bullies, troublemakers and lazy students gaining the advantage over the conscientious and those who were considered to be from a 'bad class' - Ji-Li's grandfather was a landlord, so that put her family in that category. Power was placed into the hands of those most unfitted for it.
It is frightening to read about how easily someone could have been accused of being an enemy of the people just because of jealousy, how a stray word could lead inadvertently to betrayal, and how the youth were manipulated and so quickly rejected their respect for older people that was inherent in the Chinese culture.
A simple but powerful story. 285 pages.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

For many years scientists had been trying to grow human cells outside of the human body in order to have a continuous (immortal) line of cells that would constantly replenish and that could be used to study any number of things,  especially viruses. Mouse cells had been cultured successfully, but every attempt to culture human cells had failed.
That was, up until 1951. That year, Henrietta Lacks, a 30 year old black mother of five young children, was admitted to the coloured ward of John Hopkins Hospital to have a biopsy of her cervix. A sample of tissue from her cervix was sent to George Gey, the head of tissue culture research at Hopkins.
At that time, if doctors wanted to use tissue from patients for purely research purposes, patient consent was not required, although it is now.
Henrietta Lack's tumour cells were put into culture and they didn't merely survive, but grew like nothing else had before.
The tumour turned out to be a very aggressive form of cervical cancer, and before long, millions of the cells had reproduced themselves in the laboratory. Gey and his assistants had grown the first immortal human cells which they named 'HeLa,' for Henrietta and Lacks. These cells became one of the most important tools in medicine and have been used in the development of the polio vaccine, in gene mapping, cloning, cancer research, and researching the effects of zero gravity and radiation on the human body.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a real page turner of a book and quite fascinating generally.
Rebecca Skloot is a journalist, which partly explains the readability of her book, and also the style in which she writes the story. To me this was both positive and negative. Positive, in that the scientific concepts were explained well enough for a lay person to understand and in a narrative style; negative, where the author injected certain incidents, such as the abuse of Henrietta's children by family members after she died, and other intimate family details, throughout the book.
I wondered whether this was really necessary, but an important aspect of this book is the recognition that behind all the science and research, there are real people. The author certainly portrayed this well.

I'm not American, so I didn't come to this book with any personal background experience of USA race relationships or much knowledge of the history and implications of segregation, therefore my reactions to this book are as an outsider looking in.
I had the impression at times that the culture of Henrietta Lacks' cells and the subsequent profits derived from their use (that the family never benefited from) was blamed for everything that went wrong with the Lacks family afterwards, but there was some serious dysfunction in the family before Henrietta ever went to hospital.
It was tragic that five young children lost their mother, but she had fairly advanced cervical cancer by the time she presented to John Hopkins' Hospital, and the treatment of cervical cancer wasn't clear cut at the time. She had the standard treatment of the time: radium and X-ray therapy. (See my comments on Cancer Ward, set in the 1950's.)
The author reveals scientific research that went beyond the bounds of decency, although not in Henrietta's case: research using cancer cells perpetrated upon unsuspecting black patients (see the infamous Tuskegee Study) that were likened to the Nazi experiments of WWII. Prison inmates were used as human guinea pigs, and the conditions of the 'Negro' mental institution where Henrietta's eldest girl was sent before her mother died were disgusting. Were other mental institutions at the time any better? I don't know.

There were also privacy concerns raised by the family. Henrietta's medical records were released without their consent, and blood was taken from various family members for research purposes without full disclosure. In fact, the family had no idea what was happening.

Henrietta's family were uneducated and ignorant of science so when they found out that her cells were 'alive' it was very confusing for them and this misunderstanding caused them a lot of unnecessary anguish. They thought that parts of her were still alive and that she could feel pain when experiments were performed on her cells.
The family also wondered, if Henrietta had been so important to medicine and scientists were buying her cells, why couldn't the family afford health insurance?
This is one of those areas where science leapt ahead before the ethics had been worked out. And this still happens.
The author included a very informative afterword that addresses tissue research and patient rights at the time the book was first printed in 2009, and gives examples of other individuals who took action against medical practitioners who profited by the sale of their patients tissues.
Cell research is vital. It needs to be done ethically and in an informed manner, but what a huge can of worms we've opened up!

Some other thoughts:

Henrietta Lacks was an uneducated woman from an impoverished background and like most black patients at the time, she only went to hospital when she thought had no other choice. As I mentioned above, there had been some very unethical research conducted at the Tuskegee Institute, and other incidents, that generated suspicion of the medical profession amongst black communities.

Many doctors back then used public patients for research, generally without their knowledge - these patients were being treated for free so it was considered fair enough to use them as research subjects.

In the 1950's "benevolent deception" was commonly practiced and so it was not uncommon for patients to have no idea of their diagnosis, especially if it was something as distressing as cancer. This was also the practice in the USSR in the book I mentioned above.

Henrietta was not told that her cells were replicating themselves in a laboratory and her family only found out inadvertently about twenty years later. By this time HeLa cells were a huge business and were sold and sent all over the world.

When the family realised that people were making money out of their mother's cells, they became angry, especially when they couldn't even afford medical insurance.

At the time this book went to press, blood samples and body bits taken during procedures such as removal of moles, ovaries, appendices, and tonsils - which are given voluntarily - are often kept indefinitely and later used to develop things like vaccines and drugs and no permission is required.

Rebecca Skloot first heard about HeLa cells when she was sixteen and doing a community college biology class. She spent a decade researching Henrietta's background including time spent getting to know Deborah Lacks, Henrietta's daughter, who helped provide much of the information for the book.

The documentary below, The Way of all Flesh was filmed in 1998 and is a very interesting account of the science behind the HeLa cells:

I read somewhere that a version for younger readers was published in 2012: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: The Young Reader's Edition by Gregory Mone, Rebecca Skloot, 256 Pages, Published in 2012, but it looks like it's out of print.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Starting Out With Home Education - Advice to a Young Mother

I was asked recently what advice I would give to someone just starting out in home education. I made some comments off the top of my head but I thought I'd delve into this a bit more fully. I've linked to other posts I've written or related articles that I thought would be helpful.

Philosophy - I once read this statement by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction." I thought how well this fits with the idea of having our philosophy of education established before we start teaching our children. Not that we have everything all worked out, but that we know our direction, because ideas lead us along a set course; they do have consequences.

Not long after my first child was born, I read an article that summarised the main homeschooling philosophies with their pros and cons. I was interested in Charlotte Mason's ideas after reading 'For the Children's Sake' by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay and this article stated that a Charlotte Mason education was child-centred. This bothered me because I don't believe education should be child-centred. A careful reading of Charlotte Mason's own words showed that while we respect the personhood of a child, the child isn't meant to be the centre of the universe. Moral of story: find out for ourself. Go to the source if you can. Get on the right train.

Preparation - this goes hand-in-hand with Philosophy. If you have the foundation provided by a philosophy it enables you to prepare. What books, resources and ideas can I use as building materials? The preparation may have to come before the philosophy, depending on your circumstances. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, and had prepared my mind over a number of years, so my search was to find a philosophy that fitted with my beliefs and ideas.

What does Gods Word say? - about children, about mothers and fathers, about responsibilities, teaching, and roles. Does my philosophy line up with what God's Word says about these things? Have I imbibed my ideas from the culture around me or have I thought them through in the light of God's Word? When I became a Christian at age nineteen, I was pretty shocked when I realised how much my view of life was unintentionally shaped by the culture I was steeped in, but just because you've been a Christian all your life doesn't mean you are exempt from absorbing the current cultural norms.

Learning from the Body - for different reasons there is sometimes a tendency for home educators to form a sub-culture, but if you're a Christian, the Body of Christ, the Church, is your culture. We all need people around us who 'get' what we are doing and who support us, but we also need those other members of the Body to provide a balance and who can speak into our blind spots.

'Anything works if the teacher works.' - so said Marva Collins, the educator and activist who started her own school and welcomed the 'unteachable' students who had been rejected by other schools.
I often think of this comment in the context of curriculum. If we're having a hard time teaching maths or our child isn't doing well with writing, it's common to blame the curriculum. And sometimes what we're using is not a good fit and we may need to change to something else, but often we just need to persevere and find a way to make it work. Between the abundance of advertising and someone's praise of the curriculum they've just found, it's tempting to believe that a change will solve all our problems. It probably won't. I appreciate Collins' words because we didn't have a lot of choice when we first started out, but our children received a great education anyway, and we spent our money on quality literature instead.

Less is more - there are so many activities homeschoolers can get involved with now that weren't available in the early days of homeschooling in Australia. I always advise not committing to too much if you have young children, or lots of them. There's time enough later and it's hard to form habits and routines if you're always out. If I needed some time out, I tried to make it in the evenings or a Saturday morning when my husband could be home with the kids so I wasn't dragging everyone out.

Outdoor Life - being outside gives you a certain disposition of mind and a different perspective. If you can't do anything else, take a blanket outside, lie down for awhile with a book, and let the kids loose. I had a couple of nearby parks I'd venture out to when I thought my boys needed to burn up some energy and where I could keep an eye on everyone without too much trouble.

Mother Culture - growing your soul, strengthening your mind, educating yourself, are areas we need to work on. This becomes more necessary as our children get older but it's also important to start early so it becomes a habit in your life. Our children need to see that we're not stagnant; that we are growing and honing our skills, and not just requiring it of them.

It's the little foxes that steal the grapes - we've had a few dramas or crises over the years that definitely impacted our homeschooling but it was mostly the little things, day in, day out, that sucked away at our peace. I heard this the other week: 'If you focus on the negative you empower it.'
Depending on the type of person you are, it's possible to find the negative on a regular basis. It's common sense to acknowledge that, 'Yes, there is some work to be done here,' but whether it be habit training, a disagreeable character trait, or whatever, finding a way to deal with the problem without giving it more power takes some creative wisdom.
'If any of you lack wisdom...' James 1:5


*  We do all this calling on the Grace of God

*  He gives wisdom to those who ask

*  He gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11)

*  Seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)

*  To the faithful He shows himself faithful (2 Samuel 22:6)

Friday, 16 June 2017

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) is a collection of nine essays that were transcribed from talks or sermons that Lewis gave during World War II and the years immediately afterwards, with the last (A Slip of the Tongue) delivered in 1956.
The HarperCollins edition I have, pictured above, has an introduction by Walter Hooper, an American who corresponded with Lewis for some years. In 1963, Lewis invited Hooper to visit him in England and they met at least three or four times a week, sometimes at his home, or sometimes in a pub with Lewis's group of friends called 'The Inklings.' Hooper was later to become Lewis's literary assistant and personal secretary and also his companion when he was ill.
Hooper's anecdotes of his time with C.S. Lewis give a wonderful glimpse into Lewis's character. He describes him as a 'ruddy, six-foot, genial man,' and that one of the most attractive things about him was his uproarious sense of fun.

' would take someone of Boswell's talents to give the right idea to the completeness of this remarkable man, to show how naturally the humour blended into the more serious side, and indeed was one of the causes of his greatness, his large intellect, and the most open charity I have ever found in anyone.
He was a man, many of us have come to see, of common instincts combined with very uncommon abilities...I just knew - that no matter how long I lived, no matter who else I met, I should never be in the company of such a supremely good human being again.'

I've always appreciated C.S.Lewis but this personal account of what the man was really like increased my regard for him.
I'm only going to comment on four of the essays in this book. They were all exceptional but some were philosophically difficult for me to get my head around so here are my thoughts on those I was able to get some sort of handle on.

The Weight of Glory

The weight or burden is glory is that, because of the work of Christ, any of us who really chooses shall one day stand before God and find approval:

' be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son - it seems impossible, a weight or burden of Glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.
But it is so.'

Lewis states that our desires are not too strong, but too weak.

In the New Testament and early Christian writings, Salvation was associated with palms, crowns, thrones  - i.e. Glory. These things don't appeal to the typical modern but they did to Christians in times past.
The divine accolade of "Well done, good and faithful servant," is a scriptural view.

'For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.'

There are no 'ordinary' people. These words open up a whole new dimension when it comes to relating to others. Which destination am I helping this person, or that one, to reach?

'It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations...'

Learning in War-Time

C.S. Lewis delivered this sermon in October 1939, about six weeks after World War II started. He asks whether, given the circumstances of war, we should continue to spend time on such things as literature, art, mathematics or biology, which seem relatively trivial. His perspective is that life has never been normal. Life has always been full of crises and emergencies in even the most peaceful times. There have always been reasonable instances to curtail our merely cultural activities but humanity has chosen to ignore those instances so we find Man conducting 'metaphysical arguments in condemned cells' and making 'jokes on the scaffolds.' Lewis himself, in the previous war, found that the nearer you came to the front line, the less you thought and spoke of the campaign or the cause. I remember this was the case when I read All Quiet on the Western Front.

'The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never gave begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life." Life has never been normal.'

And this gem:

'Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue in your happiness to the future...
It us our daily bread that we are to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.'

The Inner Ring

This was one of my favourite essays in this book and I immediately understood what Lewis meant by this and could call to mind the numerous 'Inner Rings' I've been aware of, or perhaps even been a part of throughout my life.
The Inner Ring phenomenon is an unwritten system with no formal rules. Lewis uses some lines from Chapter 9 of Tolstoy's War & Peace to explain this system which 'compelled a tightly laced wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain...chatted with a mere second Lieutenant.'
The second lieutenant decided that the unwritten system was the one he was going to be guided by. He knew he was a member of the Inner Ring and the general was not.
Lewis realises that Inner Rings are necessary at times:

'I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions, and it is not only a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together...'

But he also points out that,

'...the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.'

The longing to be inside takes many forms and this desire, according to Lewis, 'is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action...
Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life.'

So, Inner Rings are to be found in the schoolyard, in the work place, in university, in politics, in home education groups and sadly, in some churches.
Some questions to ask ourselves regarding this are:

Have I ever neglected a friend I loved in order to court the friendship of someone who appeared more important or 'esoteric'?

Have I ever derived pleasure from the loneliness and humiliation of the 'outsiders' after I have been on the inside of that Ring?

Do I want to join a certain group because I want to be in the know?

If I am 'in' this Inner Ring, do I make it hard for the next person who wants to be a part if it?

'Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things...
Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain...'

'The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic.'

Ultimately a genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion and as Lewis points out,
'The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.'

Highly recommended!


The Church is the Body of Christ and we are members of one another.
Lewis explores the community aspect of Christianity and points out that in our age the individual is exalted and religion is seen as belonging to our private lives.
This is a paradox and a strategy of the enemy as the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion and the modern world wants everyone to be a part of a collective.

'When the modern world says to us aloud, "You may be religious when you are alone," it adds under its breath, "and I will see to it that you never are alone."'

 Another stratagem of the enemy is for us to react by transferring our spiritual life into the same collectivism that is already part and parcel of our secular life.

'...the Christian life defends the single personality from the collective, not by isolating him but by giving him the status of an organ in the mystical Body.'

In conclusion: 

As with just about everything I've read by C.S. Lewis, these essays were top notch. If you don't get to read the whole book I'd recommend at least The Inner Ring which is free to read online here and The Weight of Glory, here
Some biographical details.

Linking to 2017 Cloud of Witnesses Challenge and The Classics Club