Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Classic Children's Literature Event

This event is in its fifth year and this is the third year I've participated in it. It's only a month long and there is also an optional read along - Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. See Simpler Pastimes for more information.
This year I'm planning to read these books:

My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara (1941)
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden (1961)

And if time permits, maybe one or two others.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - 'a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again.'

Dystopian or anti-Utopian literature is a genre that has always interested me. I can't really describe this type of reading as enjoyable but I'm attracted by the ideas and thoughts suggested by these types of books and the implications there might be for today's society.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin was completed in 1920-21 before Stalin's rise to power so it was quite prophetic for the time but it also feels prophetic nearly a hundred years later with its themes of a technological and utilitarian world.
We is written in a first person narrative and is fragmented and oblique in places because of this. It wasn't until I was about three quarters of the way into the book that I really began to connect with the story and I think that was largely due to this intentional device the author used. It suited the overall theme of the story but it wasn't an easy read.

I'm not going to attempt to 'review' this book as I don't think I'd do it justice, but I'd like to focus on some of Zamyatin's ideas that stood out to me as relevant to our present culture.

A quick, very basic outline of the story:

It is the twenty-sixth century A.D. Many years ago, there was a two-hundred year war between the City and the Country and only a fraction of the world's population was left alive. Since the war, OneState, ruled by the Benefactor, and overseen by the Guardians, has vanquished Hunger and Love, the previous rulers of the world, and established a regimentation of mankind where everything is mathematically precise, each citizen functioning like a machine.

D-503 is the narrator of We. He is a mathematician and the builder of the INTEGRAL, a technologically advanced space ship that OneState is going to use to spawn the perfect society through the rest of the solar system.
Through D-503 we are introduced to the citizens of OneState (identified only by Numbers) and their collective society as he documents his thoughts in a diary. D-503 becomes infatuated by I-330, a leader of the Mephi, an underground group of revolutionaries. This messes with his rational, precise mind and he becomes sick. In fact, according to the doctor, he seems to be developing a soul:

"You're in bad shape. It looks like you're developing a soul."

A soul? That strange, ancient, long-forgotten word. 

We sometimes used expressions like "soul-mate," "body and soul," "soul-destroying," and so on, but soul...

"That's...very dangerous," I murmured.

The Mephi have plans to get control of the INTEGRAL. A revolution is brewing and D-503 is instrumental in allowing them to achieve their aim.

Some ideas expressed in the book:

A rigidly controlled society
Conformity - the victory of all over one, of the whole over the part
The individual personality is subjugated to the collective
The mathematical precision of life in a controlled environment
The regimentation of mankind

 ...the Table of Hours - it turns each one if us right there in broad daylight into a steel six-wheeled epic hero. Every morning, with six-wheeled precision, at the very same hour and the very same minute, we get up, millions of us, as though we were one. At the very same hour, millions of us as one, we start work. Later, millions as one, we stop. And then, like one body with a million hands, at one and the same second according to the Table, we lift the spoon to our lips...

Scientific utopia
The Benefactor is all powerful, a god-like being who desires sacrifice
The State was above everything - loved ones, friends, the individual
The total surrender to Technology and Utilitarianism

The mechanism has no imagination.
When you were at work did you ever happen to see a distant, idiotic, dreamy smile spread across the physiognomy of a cylindrical pump? At night, during the hours designated for rest, did you ever happen to hear the cranes toss restlessly and heave sighs?
...But you are not to blame. You are sick. The name of your illness is:

Controlled & selective reproduction
The idea that the natural world is ugly and the technological society is pure

Man ceased to be a wild animal only when he built the first Wall. Man ceased to be a wild man only when we built the Green Wall, only when by means of that Wall, we isolated our perfect machine world from the irrational, ugly world of trees, birds, and animals...

A belief that everything in the past was primitive and absurd
Happiness and freedom are incompatible
Freedom is regarded as 'disorganised wildness'

At the same time as I was reading this book, I'd started reading through Norms & Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David V. Hicks. He observes that:

'The ancients, unlike us, expected science to enhance the their understanding of the material world without particularly helping them to transform it. Their real interest was man, and wherever possible, they tried to turn Science away from matter to man...
Because the ancients regarded man as free...and not as determined by a material universe, there was little reason to turn science and mathematics into tools with which to mold nonliving matter and man's future...
But modern science...would change the world and, if we accept the dominant ideological creeds of the nineteenth century, it would change man...
A fundamentally political ideology dedicated to the reform or the anticipated progress of material conditions uprooted the ancient insistence upon a personal ideal.'

Hicks goes on to say that the modern world has rules of analysis that 'increasingly govern our understanding and appreciation of art, poetry, history, and even religion.'

It is not concerned with what ought to be done, but what can be done.

Taken to its extreme, the end result of this way of thinking is the starting point for D-503's world.

'There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The difference lies only in the fact that one stick of dynamite explodes once, but one book explodes thousands of times.'
Yevgeny Zamyatin

Further reading

George Orwell's review of We

Short biography of Zamyatin - interesting that he was a naval engineer and had a technical  background.

Linking to Russian Literature Challenge, Back to the Classics: Russian Classic and The Classics Club.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Giveaway Winner! plus Ideas, free resources & books for a Christ-Centred Easter

Congratulations to Natilla L. who is the winner of a copy of Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter, courtesy of Paraclete Press.

It's not easy to find quality Easter focussed books for children but Make Room is one I can recommend. Another is The Tale of the Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt; Illustrated by Tim Jonke. A lovely story for children of all ages. There's a narration of the book on YouTube.

Some Family Devotional Reading:

Ann Voscamp has two free devotionals for Lent and Easter available for download when you subscribe to her email.
Trail to the Tree is seventeen day Easter devotional with Bible readings and beautiful art selections to encourage listening, lingering, praying and contemplating. Adaptable to all ages. There is also a printable 'Forgiveness: fresh start' that ties in well with the Lenten period and gives a hands-on, practical application to the act of forgiveness.
'A Lent to Repent and Refresh' is a download of 40 mini cards or 'sticky notes for your soul.' Each card focusses on a Scripture and a prayer and includes a small colour print of devotional art. I love the aspect of 'fasting' from attitudes such as indifference and negative words. This is a simple way to prepare our hearts for Easter and could be used as a family devotional with older children or to glean ideas to use with younger ones.

Scroll down to the section 'Free Tools' to download the pdf's.

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1852–6)

Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper is a valuable book that helps us to discover the value of God-centred traditions and to establish them in our lives. The author points out that these traditions are important to us all - singles, children, couples, families. Her thoughts on this reminded me of an article on 'Continuity' I read many years ago by Edith Schaeffer, but haven't read since. (I'd really appreciate if  someone reading this could shed some light on where this article can be found as I read it when I was single and it made a big impression on me.)
Treasuring God in Our Traditions is free to download here.

Other Books:

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Lent, Holy week and Eastertide - compiled by Sarah Arthur.
I'm reading through this lovely compilation in the lead up to Easter and wrote about it here.
A rich resource that would work well with highschool age children. There are also some classic poems and extracts from works of fiction that would also be appropriate to share with children a little younger.

Vinegar Boy by Alberta Hawse (1970)

This is an intensely moving story of a young disfigured boy who, eleven years before the story begins, had been abandoned by his parents. Roman soldiers had found him discarded in the hills and carried him back to the garrison for a joke as one side of his face was fair and the other a hideous purple red. After the novelty of the birthmark had ceased to amuse the men, the boy was left with Nicolaus, the steward, who had kept him and grew to love him. The boy became known as 'Vinegar Boy' and now, eleven years after he first came to the garrison, he began to hear of the miracles performed by Jesus of Nazareth. A determination grew within him to go to Jesus, believing that he would be healed - and after he was healed he would choose a new name. The time came when he was to have a whole day to himself, and he planned to seek Jesus out. However, at the last minute he was required to take vinegar to the hill where there was to be a crucifixion...

And Jesus, the only Man in the whole world who could help him, was hanging unconscious on a cross - dying.

I read this aloud quite a few years ago and it was a powerful story. It is intense in places so would probably be best for ages 10 years and up.

Hymns & Songs

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Ghent Altarpiece by Van Eyck (15th C)

And one of my all-time favourite poems:

The Donkey
When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet. 
by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide
is a rich and beautiful resource compiled by Sarah Arthur and published by Paraclete Press in 2016.
This exceptional anthology includes selections from classic and contemporary literature by writers as diverse as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, George Eliot, Wendell Berry, Luci Shaw and Frederick Buechner.

The book is divided into twenty-one sections that takes the reader from the beginning of Lent through to the end of the seventh week after Easter.
Each section has a theme and begins with an opening prayer, often taken from classic poetry. A Psalm, suggested Scriptures, five to seven literary readings, and opportunities for reflection are also included. The literary selections and the guide on their own would be a treasure, however, Sarah Arthur also has an introductory section that explains how to engage prayerfully with fiction and poetry using the practice of lectio divina (divine reading). While recognising that literary readings are not the words of Scripture, the basic principles, lectio, meditatio, oration and contemplation can be applied to novels and poetry.
There is also  a 'For Further Reading' section at the end of the book with a list of fiction and poetry for the reader to further explore the themes contained in this compilation.

Lenten sorrow makes way for Easter joy, and nothing - nothing - will quench the dawn.
And its the same shift that happens when the soul, alone in grief or guilt or illness or isolation, finds company in the life-giving words of another. During the midnight hours we shelter our guttering faith, and by its light we read poetry and prose that transcend centuries, hemispheres. Words from poets whose battles with God do not lead to victory but to a kind of grumpy determination. Stories from novelists who have tumbled into the abyss of their own undoing - of everyone's undoing - and found Someone there already, holding the bottom rung of the rescue ladder. Raise your eyes, these voices say. Look to the east. Do you not see it? There. The dawn.

These poets and novelists remind us that the sunrise is undeserved, but here we are. Our battles are ongoing but just skirmishes, really, the last desperate attempts of the losing side to go down fighting. The war itself is over.

A long-time friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is scheduled to have surgery in the coming week. On Ash Wednesday I read this poem in Between Midnight and Dawn and it pierced my heart:

Ash Wednesday by Anna Silver (Anglo-American, contemporary)

How comforting, the smudge on each forehead:
I'm not to be singled out after all
From dust you came. To dust you will return.
My mastectomy, a memento mori, *
prosthesis smooth as a polished skull.
I like the solidarity of this prayer,
the ointment thumbed into my forehead,
my knees pressing hard on the velvet rail.
If God won't give me His body to clutch,
I'll grind this soot into my skin instead.
If I can't hold the flame that burned my breast,
I'll char my brow; I'll blacken my pores; I'll flaunt
with ash this flaw in His creation.

* Latin for a reminder that we will die

I was given a free copy of this book for review purposes and I have given my honest opinion - i.e. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Sarah Arthur is the author, compiler, or co-author of eleven books and is a graduate of Wheaton College and Duke Divinity School and blogs here.

Paraclete Press have also just launched their e-subscriptions and have other resources for Lent and Easter.


Monday, 27 February 2017

Notebooks in a Charlotte Mason Education - Year 6

Moon Jelly Aurelia aurita - common ocean animal often washed up on beaches. There's a video about them here.

Science Notebook 

This year Moozle has recorded experiments from some of her science books e.g. Archimedes and the Door of Science; The Sea Around Us; The Elements and The Mystery of the Periodic Table. The experiment below was one she watched via video on the Periodic Table:

Archimedes and the Door of Science

 The Sea Around Us

We had a severe storm with large hailstones about a week ago so we did a study on what causes hail and watched the short video below which explains it reasonably well. The hailstones were the largest we've experienced and made a tremendous racket as they hit the roof. They were about the size of eggs and we ended up with a smashed skylight and damaged pergola.

Nature Notebook

We've been using this series of videos on basic water colour techniques by John Muir and also some by Alphonso Dunn on using ink & watercolours to get some direction and help in this area. Moozle has also been inspired by the watercolouring in A Country Diary of an Edwardian Woman. I wrote a little about that here.

The Portuguese Man O' War or Bluebottle was mentioned in the fourth chapter of The Sea Around Us and around the same time as we were reading through that chapter, we went to the beach and there were heaps of them washed up on the sand. Moozle managed to get stung twice but fortunately, the bluebottles we get here are not the tropical nasties. The stings hurt but what hurt more was the bull ant bite she got a few days later out the back! I know because I got one on the under part of my foot and it was awful!
For an introductory video on recognising bluebottles and treating their sting see here. A marine-stinger fact sheet is here.

The Portuguese Man O' War is an interesting creature. It's not a true jellyfish but a colony of four different types of animals. My nature journal entry:

Bull Ant

We started a tree study earlier this month. So, of course, the best way to do that is to get up in the tree and have a good look.

Poetry Notebook

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The House of the Four Winds by John Buchan (1935)

There are three outstanding heroes to be found in the novels of John Buchan. Richard Hannah is the most famous of them all and is the central figure in The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep - all fantastic stories well worth reading.
Sir Edward Leithen is another hero and apparently the narrator of John Macnab, one of Buchan's books I haven't yet read, but it comes highly recommended by a few of my kids.
The third outstanding figure in Buchan's novels is Dickson McCunn, the respectable, retired Glasgow grocer who is introduced in Huntingtower along with the Gorbals Diehards and they re-appear in Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds.
The three McCunn books are best read in order as there are a number of references to events that happened in previous books.

The House of the Four Winds is a little more fanciful and has a less serious tone than many of Buchan's other tales - our hero gets into the plot when someone appears at his upper window on the back of Aurunculeia the elephant, for example. The action is centred in the fictional country of Evallonia in Central Europe where the Republican Government of the country is in disarray and on the verge of revolution. Prince John, the rightful heir to the vacant throne, is in hiding and is regarded as a puppet by Juventus, the Nationalist movement made up mostly of Evallonian youth.
Complicating the situation is Mastrovin the Communist who is determined to get rid of Prince John in order to prevent the Monarchists taking government.

Great events, says the philosophic historian, spring only from great causes, though the immediate occasion may be small; but I think his law must have exceptions. If the not inconsiderable events which I am about to chronicle, the occasion was trivial, and I find it hard to detect the majestic agency behind them.

Trivial incidents introduce Dickson McCunn, Alison Westwater and John (Jaikie) Galt into the intrigues of Evallonia where great events are unfolding and where they each play an important role. The House of the Four Winds hasn't the depth of most of the Buchan novels I've read so far, but it is still a good story and I think Buchan's development of the character of Jaikie Galt, the true hero of this story, makes up for any lack in other areas.
Jaikie is introduced in Huntingtower as one of the Gorbals Diehards, a group of orphaned street boys roaming the slums of Glasgow, and since then Dickson had basically adopted him as his son and put him through Cambridge.

His future - what was he to do now that he was done with Cambridge? Alison - his need of her grew more desperate every day, but what could he offer her worthy if her acceptance? 
Only his small dingy self, he concluded, with nothing to his credit except a second-class degree, some repute in Rugby football, and the slenderest of bank balances. It seemed the most preposterous affair of a moth and a star.

Jaikie is a courageous young man but he struggles with his identity at times. In earlier days he'd been humiliated by the formidable Mastrovin and again he finds himself subject to the man's malevolence and his own self-abasement:

The formidable eyebrows were drawn together, and the whole man became an incarnate menace. Jaikie, empty, headachy, sitting in his shabby clothes on the edge of the bed, felt very small and forlorn. He sometimes felt like that, and on such occasions he would have given all he possessed for another stone of weight and another two inches of height.
 Once again he felt, sharp as a toothache, his extreme insignificance.

For a moment his heart failed him. Then his sense of feebleness changed into desperation. He knew that the lives of the other three depended on him, and the knowledge stung him into action. Never had he felt so small and feeble and insignificant, but never so determined.

As with Buchan's other books, there are some interesting philosophical comments scattered throughout that are a reflection of the post World War I era. The words below had a touch of G.K. Chesterton, me thinks - maybe it was the street lamps comment??

"...We are now in the midst of the retarded liquidation of the War. I do not mean debts and currencies and economic fabrics, but something much more vital - the thoughts of men. The democracies have lost confidence. So long as they believed in themselves they could make shift with constitutions and parliaments and dull republics. But once let them lose confidence, and they are like children in the dark, reaching out for the grasp of a strong hand. That way lies the dictator. It might be the monarch if we bred the right kind of king...
Also there is something more dangerous still, a stirring of youth, disappointed, aggrieved youth, which has never known the discipline of war. Imaginative and incalculable youth, which clamours for the moon and may not be content till it has damaged most of the street lamps."

John Buchan's books are in the Public Domain and are available for kindle here.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2017: A Classic with a Number in the Title.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Preparing Hearts for Easter - a Children's Book Giveaway!

Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary; Illustrated by Ann Boyajian is a simple but unique book to teach children about the heart of the practice of Lent in the lead up to Easter. While there are numerous resources explaining Lent, especially for adults, what makes this book different is the theme of 'making room' in our lives as opposed to being just a time of penitence.
I'm making this observation as one whose Church Family celebrates Easter and Advent while not officially observing the season of Lent but for the first twelve or thirteen years of my life I was brought up in the Catholic faith, so I do remember aspects of these liturgical traditions but I never really understood their meaning at the time.
Make Room explains them in a way that I never comprehended as a child. Lent in my mind brought  back memories of eating fish and having ash smeared on my forehead - externals that didn't reach my heart back then and therefore were easily discarded later on.
Over the past few years I've been contemplating liturgy and tradition and how to meaningfully incorporate them into our days. We've focussed mostly on Advent, but Easter seems to come upon us all of a sudden and while we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I don't think our observance of this time truly reflects its incredible significance. Unlike Christmas, where there is still evidence to be seen around us in the form of manger scenes, Christmas Carols, and 'goodwill to men,' the celebration of this most world-changing event is overshadowed by an avalanche of bunnies and chocolate.

In Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper writes:

"Traditions are a vital way of displaying our greatest treasure, of showing what - Who - is most important to us."

Laura Alary explains the season of Lent as a journey mirroring the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness where he made time to listen to Father God and to get ready for what He had come into the world to do.
Whether your Church tradition includes the observance of Lent or not, Make Room is a book to share with your children to help prepare their hearts for understanding and appreciating the Easter message.

Make Room is published by Paraclete Press and contains 32 pages with winsome full-colour illustrations throughout. (See their website for a view of the inside of the book) It would be ideal for a family read aloud for ages 6 to 12 years.
Paraclete Press has kindly given me a copy of this book as a giveaway. If you would like to enter to win the book you may choose one or all of these ways:

* Leave a comment below
* Like journey & destination's newly created Facebook page
* Comment on the Facebook page

I'd also love you to share any traditions your family has to celebrate this season. A winner will be chosen and announced on Friday 3rd March.

Entrants from anywhere in the world where there is a postal service are welcome to enter!