My Favorite Walks Around the World

I found this post mostly completed in my drafts folder, and thought I’d share, since it’s been awhile since I did a nostalgia post. One of the beautiful things about moving often is that you experience the “little things” of life in so many different ways. Like the smell of the plants outside your window. Or the way different fruits taste when they’re in season. Or the cadence of stray overheard phrases in different languages.

Among the constant yet changeable things in my life is the evening walk that Tony and I have taken ever since we got married. Besides being a great time to reconnect as a couple, talk about what’s on our minds, and get some fresh air, our walk also helps to explore whatever neighborhood is ours at the moment. Since we so often view the outside world through a car window, walking lets us take a slower, more intimate look at the scenery and notice things we wouldn’t otherwise see.

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Safe in the United States

I’ll start out this post with a story from when we were living in Ireland a couple of years ago. We had taken the children to the park down the street, and while we were watching them play, we struck up a conversation with a fellow parent. We never did get down the Irish accent, so as always, it came up pretty quickly that we were American. He remarked that he had considered visiting the United States. We smiled and nodded, since most people responded to our nationality with either an account of their visit to America, or an expressed desire for such a visit. But our new acquaintance went on to say that he’d decided against a trip to the United States, because he was worried about how dangerous it was.

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Globetrotting, Mormon-style

One of the things almost sure to be heard in a Mormon testimony meeting after someone has traveled (whether it’s across the ocean or just to the next town over) is an expression of gratitude that “the Church is the same no matter where you go.” To a certain extent, it’s true. We all sing the same hymns, although every ward congregation seems to have its particular favorites. We all read the same scriptures. Sunday meetings follow the same general format, even if the meetings are in a different order.  Sunday School and other lesson manuals are standardized and translated into over a hundred languages, and on any given Sunday the whole worldwide Church is studying the same lesson (give or take a week or two depending on how organized the local Sunday School teacher happens to be).

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Strange & Norrell, Wine to Water, The Egyptian Revolution, and The Dream of the Celt

This week’s book reviews (with the exception of #1, which is just an irresistible indulgence) are dedicated to people who want to save the world.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an absolute delight: witty, intelligent, exciting, and original.

I am addicted to footnotes (I even like reading annotated critical editions of novels), so I adored the abundant tongue-in-cheek scholarly footnotes in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I also appreciated the length. No matter how quickly you read, you won’t be finishing it in an afternoon. At over 1000 pages, there is just so much of this book to love.

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The Emerald Isle

In honor of the holiday, I thought I would share some of my favorite photos from the summer we spent in Ireland.

For sheer beauty, I’m not sure if any countryside can compare to Ireland’s. It is so, so lush, even in the dead of summer. The quaint low rock walls everywhere, the charming steeply-sloped roofs, and the green, green, green of everything make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale.

All that green does come with a price tag in precipitation. So rain boots were standard attire when going out.

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Casteluzzo Acadamy 2010 Term 3

I thought I had put up this term’s curriculum before. We’re already halfway through it. I like to wait a few weeks into it, though, before I post, so that I can note any adjustments I’ve made. Note: This schedule is readings for Axa, who is five. She narrates after each reading. Raj Dominique, who is three, does not have a schedule, and is not required to narrate. However, he was dying for stories of his own, so he is reading from The Rainbow Book of Fairy Tales for Five-Year-Olds (he already finished the one for four-year-olds). =&0=& – I’ve added a New Testament and Old Testament component to our studies. (We read the Book of Mormon as a family together in the mornings) I use Penny Gardner’s useful list of highlights from the Old and New Testaments. These are verses excerpted from the Bible (we use the King James Version). They focus on the stories, and omit the sorts of details I’m not ready to explain to my five-year-old yet. I would consider reading these, along with Greek and Roman mythology, the best possible preparation for visiting an art museum. We are continuing in our Old Testament reading (we’re now at Solomon), and beginning the New Testament. I decided it was good to read them simultaneously. I don’t co-ordinate history with Scripture study, not because I consider the Scriptures unhistorical, but simply because I don’t want to rush the Scripture study or slow down the history study, and the volume of material for different time periods from the sources I’ve chosen doesn’t match up well. However, On the Shores of the Great Sea, our history spine, does have frequent Biblical allusions. =&1=&– On the Shores of the Great Sea. We continue our reading in this excellent book. The first half of the term is more of Ancient Greece, and the second half details the history of Alexander the Great. =&2=& – Famous Men of Greece. One can never have too much Greek history! This gem of a book gives biographical sketches of the main players in Classical Greek history. Many are taken from Plutarch. Some curriculums spend a year on this book, but I think it fits nicely into a term. We read a chapter or two per week, which isn’t exactly frantic. Axa likes this book, although she considers it to be one of her more difficult readings. Her imagination is captured by the nobility and personal integrity of many of the Greek leaders. =&3=& – In Chimney Corners. This is a book of Irish fairy tales with names like Shan Ban and Ned Flynn or Murrgho-more and the Murrogho-beg. I like to have at least one book each term that directly addresses the culture of the place we’re living, so this is our Irish book. It’s a fun read, and the Irish character shines through. The poor are always outsmarting the rich. =&4=&By Pond and River. This is a book that presents the characteristics, life-cycles, and habits of the animals in a wetlands habitat, all in story form. Axa enjoys this book, and this is the habit we observe on our daily canal walks. Some of these stories (combined with real animals she’s observed) have formed the subject matter of a series of spontaneous poems she’s been composing lately. You can find them on her nature blog at =&5=& – Among the Meadow People. The Victorians loved nothing better than a moral tale. However, many that have come down to us from Victorian days are so preachy as to be nigh unreadable. Not so Among the Meadow people. It is Axa’s favorite book this term (and last term too!) These stories are about little personified creatures from the meadow, like “A Puzzled Cicada” or “The Dignified Walking Sticks.” They don’t even really preach at all, they just explain the dreadful difficulties caused by the character flaws of the meadow people. Liked many living books, this one does double duty–natural history and character development in one. Not to mention great entertainment. =&6=&Robert Louis Stevenson (A Child’s Garden of Verses). We have a version online (here). I had never fully appreciated the poem Bed in Summer. Now that we live in Ireland where it doesn’t get dark until 11 pm, I definitely relate to this poem. =&7=& – The Primer. This is an absolute little gem of a book. Twaddle abounds these days, and beginning readers are the worst offenders of the lot. This book was published in 1910, and it is a collection of fairytales written for the youngest readers. They are stories like The Little Red Hen, Chicken Little, and the Gingerbread Boy, in good literary language, but easy enough to be sounded out and read by a beginner. What struck me about it is that these sorts of stories really lend themselves perfectly to beginning reading, because they are so repetitive. She gets practice sounding out the same words over and over, and the story is rewarding and interesting to her. The best thing is, after the primer come several readers. I am fairly confident that she’ll be reading quite well by the end of the series. As to a method of teaching reading . . . I am afraid I must confess that I’ve read several and found them all too complicated. It was impossible for me to picture trying to teach Axa by using the various drills. And they involve so much work! Even Charlotte Mason’s method I found to involve such a deal of preparation I couldn’t psyche myself up to do it. Oh, dear, this is turning into confessions of a lazy homeschooling mother. I only got her the primer to try out, because she was reading road signs and salad dressing bottles, and I thought she might as well read something literary. Tony’s actually teaching her at quiet time. He just has her read through a few sentences every day in whatever chapter she’s on. She finishes approximately one chapter per week. He makes sure she really sounds the words out rather than just guessing from context and the initial consonant. And that’s it. I think she’s like me and naturally “sees” the words in her head, because I hear her practising sounding out words all the time when she doesn’t have them in front of her. Since seeing the word in your head is what Charlotte says will make for good readers and spellers, I guess she’s doing fine. And then there is writing. Maybe someone has a suggestion for me here. Axa writes incessantly. She has several little notebooks and also writes on every stray scrap of paper that comes into her possession. She taught herself, so her method of letter formation is . . . unconventional. As is her spelling. I am not sure what to do about this, or whether anything ought to be done as of yet. She brought me a paper today on which she had written “Axa Raj Mome Dade maus cat lop dog” I mentioned casually today that I could teach her how to spell those words if she wanted. She replied that she liked how she spelt them, and we left it at that. She does sometimes ask me how to spell things, and I oblige her. I hate to intrude too much on her projects. I’ll probably just let her keep on as she is until the beginning of the year when she turns six. =&8=&Tony continues to go through the Little House books with them. Laura and Almanzo are just about to get married in These Happy Golden Years, so we are winding up our time with them. We’ve also been reading The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit, which I love (I didn’t realise till we’d already begun it that it’s a free read for Ambleside Year 5. Oh, well). =&9=&We have been practising the songs for the Primary Program. The Bobbles had three months of them in English, two in Italian, and now three more in English, but they will be in the Program in Italy, so we’re going to need to play some catch up so they’ll feel comfortable singing in Primary. The Church website has audio for the songs primary book in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, so we’re out of luck there. But we do have the Primary songbook in Italian, so we should be able to manage. =&10=& – The Bobbles are always making things and doing little projects. Axa’s latest thing is making little presents, purses, bags, bracelets and rings out of leaves and flowers. They are like little fairy-gifts. They fade away in the morning, but they are beautiful while they last. =&11=&have all kind of fallen by the wayside. We shall make a new start in Italy for Term 4. And that’s it, folks! It’s not as comprehensive as I’d like, but considering all the craziness that’s been going on around here, I can be happy about it.

Render unto Caesar when in Rome

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair. I’ve been asked to teach Axa’s Primary class at Church today. The lesson is on obeying the laws of the land. One of the activities is to tell the story from Matthew 22 when the Pharisees and the Herodians go in to trick Jesus with a question about whether they should pay taxes or not. On another tax paying occasion when His disciples were worried about having the needed funds, I remember Him sending them out with their nets to catch a fish with a coin in its stomach. It was better than a fairytale. But this time he a merely asks his interlocutors to produce a coin and asks them to identify the image stamped on it. He replies with the memorable injunction “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” My lesson manual suggests that I bring a coin to Primary with a picture of a national leader on it. So I went to my purse and emptied it of coins. But I didn’t have much luck. European coins have a pretty generic front side, since they’re used all over the EEC. I turned them over, and found that all the Irish coins had a harp on them. That was a little too abstract. There was one stylised drawing of a national leader, but she was from the Netherlands. My five and six year olds probably had never heard of her. So I asked Axa if I could borrow some of her American change. I dumped it out and considered using a quarter. But really, George Washington seemed out of place in a class in Ireland. And anyway, he’s long dead, and no longer accepting taxes. Then a 20 pence piece from Great Britain caught my eye. I turned it over and voila! There was a large picture of Queen Elizabeth, looking very royal, with an elaborate crown and everything. Perfect. If it had been a class of Irish children, I might have hesitated, since British imperialism is still anything but popular here. However, the only two children in my class are my daughter, who is American and Italian, and a little girl from France, and both of them have been to England and at least heard of the Queen. So that’s settled. Now I just have to hope that all the laws they mention in the manual are really laws here. I’m pretty sure jaywalking and having your dog off-leash are illegal here just like in the States. Now I wonder if that’s true in Italy? From observation, I would say no. But in Italy you can’t necessarily tell from observation what is legal. I hope I haven’t been inadvertently breaking too many laws there. There was that one time when the Chief of Police told me it was fine to just overstay my visa. I guess I need a civics course. Good thing I have Primary to get me to think about these things. Postscript: The children loved the queen and her crown. However, I am still not certain they understand completely the concept of taxation. Oh well.

Plaid skirts and Rubber Boots

I have one great regret about homeschooling. School uniforms. I would love to dress up Axa in plaid skirts and sweaters and Raj in ties and knee socks. And they would love it too. (Really, they would. In fact, for her school the other day, Axa dressed both herself and Raj up in dresses, crowns and veils. My fantasies are much tamer.) I have considered dressing them up in school uniforms even though they don’t go to school. But the way we do school is so messy. It involves bread dough, mud, snails, and other things incompatible with starched white collars and shiny black shoes.

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Diary of a Neo-Edwardian Lady

We were at Lough (Lake) Ennell yesterday, and it was beautiful. It barely rained on us at all. And, I discovered the macro button on our camera (actually, Tony showed it to me). What joy and delight! I snuck up on every bug in sight, not to mention dozens of very obliging flowers. Maybe I really could do a nature journal. I’ve been stuck on that point for some time, as my repertoire of feminine accomplishments does not include brush drawing. I was just about to capture a slug when the camera battery finally died. From above, the slug looked as sedentary and blobby as slugs are wont to look. But from below! He was ravenously devouring a leaf. His prodigious lips engulfed it alarmingly. Raj and I had been watching him for five minutes when Axa came over to investigate. I pointed out his sharp tooth, of which I had caught several glimpses. In fact, we could even hear the little snip as he cut off each piece of leaf. Axa said, “I read in a book that slugs cut leaves with their sharp tongue.” She’s right, of course. She knows all sorts of things like that. I looked it up when I got home. The tongue of a slug is called a radula, and it’s covered in tiny teeth. Axa has opened a school for Raj. (This is something I’ve noticed about most homeschoolers, including myself. They have a fascination with playing school.) She was inspired in this case by Laura, who in These Happy Golden Years has just landed a job as a school teacher, even though she’s officially too young. Yesterday I peeked in on them. Axa was dressed up in several layers of dresses (petticoats perhaps?), and Raj was wearing somewhat less (how much less I decline to state. It rather resembled a miniature Jane instructing an even more diminutive Tarzan). She had arranged her magnetic tangrams into a little scene with flowers, sun, grass, and a worm made out of a pipe cleaner. She was deep in an explanation to her pupil regarding the importance of worms. “The worm,” she informed him, “eats little pieces of dead things and turns them into dirt. The grass needs the dirt to grow. If it weren’t for the worm, the little frog would die, because he needs the grass to keep his skin wet.” I tiptoed away, not wishing to interrupt such a delicately simply and warmly felt ecology lesson, every part of it gleaned from many personal interactions with the creatures named. This is why Charlotte Mason calls education “the science of relations,” or in other words, the art of developing relationships with the people, creatures, ideas, and things that one encounters in life and books. I’m almost embarrassed to admit to any degree of teaching when it comes to my children. Yes, I plan the curriculum (i.e. tell Tony which books are to be read and narrated at bedtime, download books for Axa from librivox, and make sure we have plenty of other good books around for the various other requested reading times). Basically, I collect books, and I’m very choosy. We read nothing that I don’t consider to be well worth reading. But we read a lot. Mostly, though, what I do is what Charlotte Mason calls “masterly inactivity.” Which means not interfering when children are seriously engaged in the business of “playing” (i.e. working, or rather learning, or really living). Masterly inactivity is the habit of noticing when children are doing important things (which is nearly always) and keeping out of their way so that they can do them. And whenever I do it, I am amazed at the beauty and intelligence of who they are.

We’ll make Rome before six o’clock

We walked down the canal again today. It’s my favourite walk here in Mullingar. Although it’s over two hundred years old and no longer serves as a conduit for goods and passengers coming up and down from Dublin, they still keep it cleared for the occasional motorboat. I was very pleased the first time we walked down it to demonstrate my extensive knowledge of canals and those who work on them (derived entirely from the verses of The Eyrie Canal, which my mother taught me). Just a couple of weeks ago I read some more about bargees in The Railway Children, which is our current daytime readaloud. At night Tony and the children are still making their way through the Little House books. We’ve been enjoying the contrast between life in England and life in the United States during the same time period. It reminded me of reading about Tony’s great-great-grandmother Henriette. She was a tutor at the Savoy court in Turin when she heard the Mormon missionaries and sailed to America to cross the plains with the pioneers. During the next few years as the Savoys were conquering all Italy and becoming Kings, Henriette was carrying her baby as she drove a cow from Provo to Salt Lake City on her way to settle in a log cabin in a little mountain valley. We leave for Italy in less than a month, and it looks like it will be a long-term move. We found out today that Axa is number one on the waiting list for the preschool in our little town. As a homeschooling mother, I am somewhat ambivalent about this. The reason we want to send her is to help her with her Italian. I think a year of preschool will leave her quite fluent. She’ll only go for three hours in the morning, which made it a much easier decision. Raji might go too. It’s not a decision I ever anticipated making, and of course it assumes that she’ll like it, but we really feel good about it.