". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Third Grade!

At the Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy the most important advancement is not academic but spiritual. Evan, our 8-year-old, learned the Ten Commandments last year in first grade. This year for second grade he has been working on the Apostles' Creed and its meaning from Luther's Small Catechism. Evan's father told him that when he could say the complete meaning of the Creed he would earn the title of third grader. Here is Evan doing just that this morning. The whole family was present for this occasion and we are all so very proud of him!

The Apostles' Creed with Meaning, from Luther's Small Catechism from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Goodbye Song

Yesterday my husband accompanied a voice recital. The singers were two high school graduates who are voice students of a friend of ours but who will soon be leaving home to pursue vocal study at the college level. This song in particular touched our hearts. It is the opening number of the musical Parade and is sung by a young Confederate soldier who is leaving his sweetheart to fight in the Civil War. We may live in Illinois now but both my husband and I were born and reared in the South and still consider it home. So the love for home and pride in one's roots that is so amazingly evoked here touches something very deep in our hearts. 

Second, this is a song about saying goodbye. We will be saying some of our own goodbyes in the next few weeks as we leave the church we have called home now for almost 13 years. But there are names we have carved in our hearts and memories that we will always cherish. So to our own "Lila" we say farewell. We miss you already.

Farewell, my Lila
I'll write every evening
I've carved our names
In the trunk of this tree
Farewell, my Lila
I miss you already
And dream of the day
When I'll hold you again
In a home safe from fear
When the Southland is free

I go to fight for these old hills behind me
These Old Red Hills of Home
I go to fight, for these old hills remind me
Of a way of life that's pure
Of the truth that must endure
In a town called Marietta
In the Old Red Hills of Home

Pray on this day as I journey beyond them
These Old Red Hills of Home
Let all the blood of the North spill upon them
'Til they've paid for what they've wrought
Taken back the lies they've taught
And there's peace in Marietta
And we're safe again in Georgia
In the land where honor lives and breathes
The Old Red Hills of Home

Farewell, my Lila

"The Old Red Hills of Home" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Homeschooling Planning

For my homeschooling readers, I thought I would take just a few minutes and share what we are planning to do with Evan for "school" this year.

History - The Story of the World, Volume 2 (Medieval/Renaissance) - We are almost through Volume 1!

Language Arts - Learning Language Arts Through Literature, Level 3 (Yellow) - I have used this book before, for several of the elementary years. I particularly like the Yellow book. It introduces cursive writing as well as some core spelling rules and language concepts. And I like the format: an integrated approach to language arts with assignments broken down into very manageable daily lessons (five per week). It's an excellent basic language arts text that isn't too time-consuming or heavy on the busy work.

Math - We are trying Life of Fred this year. I am intrigued by the story-based approach, one that incorporates all kinds of non-math knowledge. Here, too, I appreciate the lack of busy work. I will, however, supplement with additional drill whenever I perceive a need.

Foreign Language - We have not done any with Evan so far. This year we are going to dip our toes into some Latin study with Power Glide's elementary curriculum. It is a story-based introduction to the language. Can you tell I like stories?

Science - I don't think science at this level is all that necessary. On the other hand, it is fun! We will use Janice Van Cleve's Science Around the Year as a spine and will supplement with many easy reader books already on our shelves (children's encyclopedias, Magic School Bus, Scholastic Question-and-Answer, etc.)

In addition to these core books, we will have our normal catechism study and do a lot of reading, both independent and readaloud. I don't really have a plan for the reading--it will be whatever I feel like pulling off the shelf. I have not done any Laura Ingalls Wilder or E. B. White with Evan yet so those are top of the list. We will also, of course, continue piano lessons, and Evan will be taking a pottery class at the homeschool co-op as well as singing with a community children's choir that I accompany. Finally, we plan to sign up for swimming lessons--we have dropped the ball on that and Evan still does not know how--as well as community youth basketball. We have had trouble in the past with group sports. My HSC does not handle the drama of competition all that well. But he has also matured a great deal this past year. So we are going to give it another try!

Wow. It doesn't seem like a lot, but then again, it does. I am looking forward to our year! There is something special about third grade. So much growing up happens this year. My best memories of elementary school are of third grade and a teacher named Mrs. Snyder. She was so pretty and even then I could tell that she had a unique sense of style. She was young and dressed like none of the other teachers. We loved her clothes and hair and would draw pictures of her all the time. I know Evan loves me more than I loved Mrs. Snyder. :-) I hope I can provide him some of the same great third grade memories she gave me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pure Michigan!

Last week I visited "The UP" (Michigan Upper Peninsula) for the first time. Some friends of ours have a summer home in Manistique, and they invited us to join them for a few days. There was no arm-twisting required to get us to leave the Oven Formerly Known as Chicago for a short getaway.

This is our friends' house. They have worked all last summer and this summer updating it. Isn't it lovely? It is only a few blocks from Lake Michigan. When we arrived the first evening quite late, we could see the stars and hear the waves. The house has no air conditioning but the moderate UP climate, open windows, and fans in almost every room kept things comfortably cool. I almost felt like I was in Grenada again.

We enjoyed several activities during our stay. One day we went to see Kitch-iti-kipi. I'll let you click on the link to find out more, but here are a few pics from our visit.

A boat with a clear glass floor allows riders to look down and see the spring.

Evan and Caitlin waving from the boat dock.

Pretty girl.

Looking down through the viewing glass on the floor of the boat. The lighter colored area is due to the bubbling of the spring.

Trees reflected in the water.

Our hostess powering the boat.

Two peas in a pod.

Playground in the park at Kitch-iti-kipi. We did some swinging! Yes, that's me with the crazy hair.

And there's that pretty one again.

My own little--um, make that big--Dora the Explorer.

Later this same day we went to the boardwalk in Manistique and visited a nearby lighthouse.

Trevor is not pictured because he stayed behind to manage the homefront for us. Thanks, Trevor!


Our final outing was--of course!--a trip to the beach.

Back at the house and a little sunburned. It's hard to cover every spot with sunscreen!

What better way to wrap up a beach day than with some s'mores? Is that redundant?

As we sat, the bats came out and flew around our heads. You think I'm kidding.

Thank you, Paul, Elise and Evelyn, for your friendship and hospitality. You all rock. We'll be in touch about our return trip. :-)

Monday, July 16, 2012

In Search of Art, or "What the Heck is He Trying to Say, Anyway?"

Last year for literature, Caitlin and I started using this text:

Between our relaxed homeschool pace and several detours into other reading adventures, progress has been slow. We are just now starting the second section of the book, the one on "Beauty." It, like the other main three main sections of the book, begins with several excerpts from philosophical writings related to the section's dominant theme. For the "Beauty" section the excerpted writers are Leo Tolstoy, George Santayana, and John Dewey. The question at hand is, "What is art?" and, by extension, "What is beauty?" (assuming that man's pursuit of art goes hand-in-hand with his appreciation for that which is beautiful). I found this material to be quite challenging reading and decided to write a blog post as a means of helping me to process and summarize it. And you, my lucky readers, get to come along for the ride!

The excerpt by Tolstoy was by far the easiest to comprehend. It was taken from a long essay entitled, amazingly enough, "What is Art?" (The essay is available for purchase in book form.) For Tolstoy, art equals communication. The artist (who in Tolstoy's world is not an uppity guy in a beret but anyone with a story to tell) has something to share; when he successfully does so, that is art. In Tolstoy's words, "Art begins when one person with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling expresses that feeling by certain external indications." He elaborates by saying what art is not. It is not "the manifestation of some mysterious Idea of beauty or God" or the release of "stored up energy" or the mere "production of pleasing objects"; it is, more than anything, the act of one who has experienced something using some medium to "infect" another person with that same experience; according to Tolstoy, "the stronger the infection, the better is the art." And since art is primarily about communication, it should only be concerned with communicating that which is worthwhile; according to Tolstoy, a Christian, the ancient Greeks are not worth studying since in their art they don't uphold Christian values. That which is most worthy of artistic communication is that to which the common man can relate and that in which he can find spiritual nourishment.

I found Santayana extremely difficult to follow, so if you're a Santayana geek, please feel free to correct me. Santayana was a materialist, so his emphasis is on the physicality of art. He does not think that humans have the capacity to go beyond the physical. (See his poem "On the Death of a Metaphysician.") He defines beauty as "pleasure objectified." There is a utilitarian element to his view of art as something that makes the rest of life bearable: "The appreciation of beauty and its embodiment in the arts are activities which belong to our holiday life, when we are redeemed for the moment from the shadow of evil and the slavery to fear, and are following the bent of our nature where it chooses to lead us." Because art is based in physical experience and every person with his individual identity and unique history experiences the world a little differently from every other person, art is therefore subjective. One person's experience of a work of art will be different from another's because of what each individual brings to the work. I think, then, that Santayana would disagree with Tolstoy's view of art being primarily about accurately communicating the artist's perception of something. He would see that as an impossible goal.

The last philosopher excerpted in our reading was John Dewey. It is a name I have come to highly distrust due to its association with lots of things that scare me--for example, progressive education, radicalism, pragmatism, and the importance of "socializing" the individual. But I appreciated a lot of what Dewey had to say about art. Here's a summary:

Art is first and foremost an experience. All of life is experience, but art is "AN experience" with a meaning that goes beyond the immediate.
Any subject matter is fair game for art. "The interest of the artist is the only limitation . . . . " (This specifically refutes both those that would say the proper subject matter of art is only that which lifts us above the common as well as those who, like Tolstoy, say art should only be concerned with the "everyday" to which we can personally relate.
The one "all-important characteristic of art" is the "artistic sincerity of the individual artist."
The experience of a work of art is more than the sum of its parts: "About every explicit and focal object there is a recession into the implicit which is not intellectually grasped. . . . A work of art elicits and accentuates this quality of being a whole and of belonging to the large, all-inclusive whole which is the universe in which we life."

I like Dewey's argument that art takes us beyond ourselves and connects us to something bigger. What scares me about Dewey, though, is that the "bigger" is not what it is for me--a sense of wonder and of the True and the Good that ultimately comes from the Creator--but rather, the "bigger" is the Borgian social fabric that sees the individual, with all his desire for personal sovereignty and fulfillment, as a hindrance.

I would be interested to hear from any of my philosophically astute readers whether I am correctly understanding the three writers above. I would also be interested to hear my readers' definitions of art. What is it, and how do you know when you've been in contact with it?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Life Update Number I-Don't-Even-Know

If you're friends with me on Facebook you already know some of this, but maybe not all, so if you want to make sure you are completely informed about the mundane trivialities of my existence you will have to read the whole post. :-)

We spent the Fourth at home. We generally don't go to see fireworks anywhere--for our introverted, highly sensitive group such an event is too crowded, noisy, and this year, too hot. So instead we stayed in and enjoyed a slower pace, watching some tennis, grilling some burgers, and working on a few house tasks. I returned to my kitchen painting project, which has been neglected for months now. It is a slow process because in one of my rare daring moments I decided it would be fun to have a red kitchen (Valspar Heirloom Red, to be precise). What was I even thinking? I know what I was thinking. I am going to love it when it's done. But everything is requiring a minimum of one coat of primer and two coats of paint. And my kitchen has a lot of corners, so this is going to take a while. (One of these days I'll post before and after pictures.)

In honor of Independence Day, we took time after supper to read the Declaration of Independence. Have you ever done that? If not, you should. It's not very long and is a classic example of inductive reasoning. And, oh yeah, it's how our country got started! 

After reading aloud together we gathered around the piano for some patriotic songs and Evan did some robust flag-waving. Then we wrapped up the evening with a few episodes of the Peanuts This is America, Charlie Brown DVD. (And I can't believe the price on that item! I know we didn't pay anywhere near that much!)

Caitlin is not pictured above as she is away this week attending Higher Things, an annual conference for Lutheran youth. She is going with our good friends from Nebraska. Pictured below is the handoff, somewhere on I-80. You can see that she fits right in with this group! Trevor is not attending Higher Things but was along for the ride, as Phillip took him to Lincoln for a summer lesson with his piano professor at University of Nebraska on this same trip. While they were in Lincoln, Phillip, Trevor and Caitlin took time to visit the Nebraska state capitol building and Caitlin got a little more familiar with the UNL campus. College is still several years away for her, but she is starting to compile a list of institutions to consider, and UNL is one.

Hey, I think I recognize those t-shirts! :-)

I was devastated by the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare this week. I am too devastated to blog about it. What were they even thinking?

In spite of the extreme temperatures our garden seems to be doing well. We have been enjoying our romaine lettuce for weeks now and have made one round of pesto. Several of the broccoli plants played out early but one is producing nicely. Parsley is looking good, tomatoes are starting to ripen and okra is hitting its stride. The jury is still out on the cucumbers, peas and beans, though.

Today I am leaving to drive part of the way to Missouri to pick up Caitlin. I will stay with an old, dear friend in Iowa tonight and get a much needed hug. Make that ten hugs. It has been a very difficult spring. I do not want to share details at this time, but if you are reading I would appreciate your prayers for our family. We are in need of God's direction for us, and until that direction is made known, patience and faith and peace of mind and spirit. But most of all, we could use some answers, and we could use them soon. We are boldly praying and would deeply appreciate your praying with us for some things in our lives to be resolved in the near future in a way that would lead to much rejoicing! Thank you for reading. Stay cool!