Archive for October, 2006

Meaningful Work

October 31, 2006 @ 11:27 am | Filed under: , ,

Musing about the "meaningful work" part of my Rule of Six, Jove writes:

By observing how [my daughter] has been participating in household work over the
past little while, I have come to see that when there is no list of
"chores", the work itself can become meaningful. It produces something
that the worker desires — tasty bread, a tidy environment, etc. It
also produces a feeling of fully belonging to the household. That pride
that she can empty the dishwasher is at least partly about
recognizing an additional way that she is able to contribute, even if
she doesn’t empty the dishwasher every time. And household tasks do not
just produce goods (bread, dinner, clean laundry) and services (dinner
served to the table, maid service), they also produce relationships.

Doing these things for others as a member of a household is a way of
tangibly caring for people.

(Emphasis mine.)

Jove, that is so beautifully put. Yes, yes, yes: household work cheerfully and reverently done builds warmth and cameraderie within the family. I use the word "reverently" deliberately; I really do mean it. If we approach tedious domestic tasks—or any task—with an attitude of reverence, a sense that this work, however mean, however mundane, can bless our loved ones (or even perfect strangers), the work itself is changed. Cleaning toilets need not be drudgery; it can be as loving an act as buying a gift for your spouse or reading a special book to a child.

There’s a lovely passage in Thyra Ferre Bjorn’s book, Papa’s Wife, in which Mama sits down to her favorite task of the week: polishing the shoes of her seven children. Seven pairs of shoes! Imagine! She spent all day each Saturday cleaning and scrubbing and baking and preparing her home for the Sabbath—"Papa" was a pastor—and at the end of that long, hard day, she had to face that pile of shoes. Except there was no "having to face" the task in her attitude. She took joy in the job. Each shoe called forth the image of the child who wore it, and as she worked, Mama would smile over the thought of a funny or endearing thing the child had done that week. (Last year, when I re-read this book for the dozenth time, I thought of Alice during the shoe-polishing scene—and months later, when I read her "Spring Soup" post, I thought of the warm-hearted Swedish mama.)

Jove’s post also describes her recent decision to begin baking bread with her daughter. She links to a recipe Wisteria uses daily. This is perfect timing for me. I’ve been hankering to bring breadmaking into our lives ever since Elizabeth shared her enthusiasm for the task on the CCM list years ago. All these years, I’ve been biding my time, which is to say, waiting for Jane to be old enough to be in charge of the job. And she IS old enough now. I have already promised her we’ll work more baking into our lives now that we’re sort of overhauling our daily rhythm.

I’d love your input on recipes for beginners, dear readers. I have to admit Wisteria’s recipe (which sounds wonderful) intimidated me a little with its use of the words "adjust accordingly." Jove DID adjust accordingly, and I’m mighty impressed. I can "adjust accordingly" with the best of them when it comes to, say, educational method and materials, but with baking? Not so much. I need the Baking for Dummies version.

And we can make do without a mixer and dough hook, right? For now? Since this is likely to be a once-a-week endeavor at best?

News and Views (as the DHM Says)

October 31, 2006 @ 7:24 am | Filed under:

Just a reminder that the new edition of the Carnival of Children’s Literature is scheduled to appear today over at Scholar Blog, so keep your eyes peeled! ("Eyes peeled" always makes me think of the bowls of peeled grapes people used to put out at Halloween parties, and you were supposed to feel them with a blindfold on, and your host would tell you they were eyeballs. Ew.)

Speaking of ew, there’s a disheartening piece of news over at Farm School today. Becky links to an article in the Edmonton Journal about a publisher’s plans to create a "prequel" to Anne of Green Gables. The book will tell the story of Anne’s early years:

The new book, Before Green Gables, will focus on the young girl’s
hard-luck life with a string of foster families and at a Nova Scotia
orphanage in the years before her momentous appearance as an
11-year-old adoptee at Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s farm in
turn-of-the-century Avonlea.

No, no, no. Don’t do it! So wrong. Such a bad idea.

Now hold on a minute, some of you are saying. What are you doing up on there on that high horse, Melissa Wiley? Don’t you write prequels to another beloved children’s series?

Here’s why a "new" Anne book is different (and wrong, wrong, wrong). Anne is fictional, an author’s creation. L.M. Montgomery made her up. She gave us Anne’s backstory in her own books. In a few short paragraphs, Montgomery paints a vivid picture of the misery of Anne’s early years, and it’s a finished canvas, albeit a small one. No one needs to come along and try to repaint it as a mural.

Martha Morse and Charlotte Tucker were real people. The Ingalls/Wilder family archives contain letters about them, birth and death records, marriage records, the names of children they gave birth to (including babies who died at birth). Where the records leave gaps, I have had to fictionalize, and that’s why the books I have written are historical fiction instead of biography. But the women were real. Laura Ingalls Wilder did not create them out of her own imagination. By all means, someone write a book about Lucy Maud Montgomery’s young life! Or her grandmother’s, for that matter. But leave her made-up characters alone.

I don’t think of my books as "prequels," though of course that is what
my publisher calls them. A few years ago, my editor asked me to consider writing a book about Mary Ingalls. I declined. I didn’t think the "lost years" book (Old Town in the Green Groves) should be written either, at least not in a format that placed it within the series. If someone had wanted to write a biography of Laura that focused on the Iowa years, that would have been different.

Dear Whole Wide World, I Have a Small Request

October 29, 2006 @ 8:40 pm | Filed under:

If you wouldn’t mind, I would be very grateful if we could all agree to postpone Halloween by a week. Even a few extra days would do. Tuesday is just too soon. I can’t locate my salt and pepper shakers at the moment, much less the supplies necessary to concoct five costumes in forty-eight hours. Even if the baby just goes as a Cute Baby, that leaves four costumes I’ll have to whip up from, say, recycled moving boxes and blank newsprint. And yes, I’m well aware that a Google search would probably turn up at least a hundred websites specializing in instructions for constructing Halloween costumes from recycled moving boxes and blank newsprint. It’s just that I doubt Belle, Felicity, and St. Joan of Arc are among the many, many fabulous costumes that can be assembled from cardboard and crumpled paper.

So what do you say? Can we all agree to put a temporary freeze on turning the calendar, and let it be Monday, October 30, for the next four or five days? That would be swell.

I Am Living in a Sliding Puzzle

October 29, 2006 @ 3:40 pm | Filed under:

Unpacking is like playing with one of those infuriating little handheld puzzles where you have to slide tiles around to rearrange the segments of a picture. You have a stack of boxes here and a bunch of bookcases there, but you can’t get the bookcases in place because there are boxes in the way, and you can’t move the boxes because there’s nowhere to put them. And then suddenly—you have no idea how it happens—you shift one object in just the right way and everything starts to click into place.

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close.

Scott broke down all the empties yesterday and moved them out to the trash cans, and that helped a lot. He also, and this was key, found shelf pegs for the last six empty bookcases. So far hardly anything has turned up missing in this move, but of course the AWOL items are things that are vitally important. There were supposed to be THREE bags of shelf pegs, but we could only find two. Your umpteen bookcases do you no good at all if you can’t put in the shelves. Scott bought new pegs at Home Depot, and we’ll probably find that third baggie any minute now, because as soon as you pay money to replace something, it comes out of hiding. I’m pretty sure that’s a Rule of Moving.

The other missing item is a kitchen box. I’m sure it’s here somewhere. I thought I’d opened every single box but clearly I have not, because I have yet to locate the carton with my Tastefully Simple Seasoned Salt in it, and I know I’d have remembered coming across that one. Scrambled eggs just aren’t the same without my TS SS, sob. Fortunately I know where to score some more, and then I’ll have—according to the Rule of Moving—TWO jars, which will be just fine with me.

Anyway, aside from bland eggs and general disorder, we’re settling in quite nicely. We had a great first week in our new digs. The view may be somewhat less inspiring than our beloved Blue Ridge vista (the guy next door, which is to say about ten feet from where I’m sitting right now, is doing a large and outspread renovation project that takes up his entire yard), but it’s INTERESTING, all right. And the weather is gorgeous. Scott heard something on the radio about how winter is coming, so get ready for…more 72 degree days. Heh.

The girls are making friends already—a certain wonderful online pal of mine gave us the warmest possible welcome and an instant sense of community—and our schedules are already filling up, and I can’t believe we just got here ten days ago.

I’m hoping this week will be a return to rhythm—altered, certainly, but back to our old pattern of mornings spent immersed in books and Latin and nature study and all that fun stuff, and a quiet midday rest period during which I can maybe grab a little writing time, and then afternoons spent exploring and playing. I’m posting this here, on Bonny Glen, because it’s time for the blogs to return to their right rhythm too. Lilting House is supposed to focus on (as you know) homeschooling and special needs children, but I blogged the trip on it because I knew I couldn’t guarantee daily updates on TWO blogs, and I did promise to keep up a certain level of frequency in the posting there. But now our general family stuff will bounce back home to Bonny Glen, along with thoughts about the books we read, and, occasionally, thoughts about the books I write. Of course I’m probably the only one who takes any notice of what kind of post I put on which blog. I suppose I’m just thinking with my fingers here, trying to organize my mental writing space the way I’ve been organizing closets.

On the trip I thought of a new blog I want to start and Alice has promised to help me. It’ll have to be a whenever-we-can-squeeze-it-in kind of project, but I think it’ll be fun. It’s an idea that grew out of our cross-country drive, and the nice thing about it is that all of you can chip in. More on that later. I have to finish my closets first!

My Rule of Six and Whence It Came

October 26, 2006 @ 7:33 am | Filed under: , , ,

It’s funny how things you post on the internet take on a life of their own. When I began this blog* last spring (*The Lilting House, where this post originally appeared), I put “Our Rule of Six” in the sidebar (see it down there on the right, near the bottom?), intending to write a post about it. I touched upon it in one of the very first posts I wrote for this blog, but I always meant to come back to it and explain how the idea developed. Now and then I’ll get a nice email from someone who has happened upon the Rule of Six and found it useful, and I’m always so thrilled by that and I’ll think, Oh that’s right, I need to write that post!

But it’s been just a wee bit busy around here these past few months.

While I was on the road last week (or the week before; it’s all a blur), my friend Mary G.—whom I had the great pleasure of meeting in person during my Denver visit—popped me a lovely note saying she’d borrowed my Rule of Six for her own blog, and lots of people had responded with their versions, and would I mind if she put together a little Rule of Six Carnival? Of course I was delighted. I’ve greatly enjoyed reading this collection of posts, seeing how some folks have chimed in with their thoughts about my Rule, and others have put together their own lists.

And I figured it’s about time I finished up that old post about what our Rule of Six is and how I came up with it! It’s something I’ve been using for four or five years, and when I think about it, I can’t believe I haven’t ever posted about it before because it is such an important and constant guideline for me.

It got its start, as so many helpful principles do, in the writings of Charlotte Mason. In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola wrote that Miss Mason believed children needed three things every day: something to love, something to think about, and something to do. (And if you read the other posts in the Carnival, you’ll see that the Bookworm, astute woman that she is, picked up on my source immediately!)

I remember it was shortly after we moved from New York to Virginia in 2002 that I looked at the bright faces of my three little girls in their big blue room and made a silent promise to myself to give them that good soul-food every day: something to love, to think about, to do. I thought about what that meant in practical terms, because a concept has to translate very clearly on a practical level if there is any hope of my pulling it off. It’s the logistics that get you, every time. Broad principles are like umbrellas, and you need a hand to hold the umbrella with.

And that’s how I got to our Rule of Five. (Yes, five. It was Five for the first two or three years. Item number Six didn’t join the list until later—which is why I’ve been tickled to see all these Rules of Six popping up, because ours was the Rule of Five for so long.) I thought of it as the five fingers of a hand, the five things that I strive to make a part of every day we spend together:

Good books

Imaginative play

Encounters with beauty (through art, music, and the natural world—this includes our nature walks)

Ideas to ponder and discuss (there’s Miss Mason’s “something to think about”)


When Mary borrowed my list, she put prayer at the top to reflect its overarching importance, which makes perfect sense. I have it at the bottom for the very same reason. I always figure that you’re most likely to remember the last thing you hear. If I put the most important thing at the bottom of the list, that’s the word that echoes in my consciousness afterward.

Also, when the girls were younger it worked so beautifully with a little fingerplay we would do at bedtime. We would hold up a finger for each thing on the list. “What did you play today?” I would ask, and eager stories would bubble forth. “Who remembers what books we read?” “Where did we meet beauty today?” It was such fun, at the end of the day, to listen to their reflections about what we’d done since breakfast. At the end of the list, we’d all be holding up the five fingers of a hand, and then we’d clap our hands together and that meant time to pray.

But what about the sixth item in my Rule of Six? You see, of course, what’s missing from my original list: work. That’s because when I first came up with the list, my oldest child was only six, and play WAS her work. A couple of years later, the list grew—like my children. I added “meaningful work” (as opposed to busywork) to express the importance of doing useful things cheerfully and well, with reverence and attention.

And the five-finger visual works even better now, because you can tally off the first five things on the list and then clasp your hands together for the sixth. It’s been a long time, though, since we used the fingerplay at the end of the day. I bet Beanie doesn’t even remember it. Maybe that’s something to return to now that we’re settling into a new rhythm, a new place to practice our Rule.

And Here I’d Been Worried the Orca Was in Danger

October 24, 2006 @ 11:16 pm | Filed under:

Today’s unpacking marathon revealed treasure in the middle of one box: the small plastic shark and orca that Beanie and Rose love as dearly as if they were made of a precious material like, say, chocolate.

Of course this meant they had to take a bath RIGHT AWAY OH PLEEEEASE MOMMY. Since we’d spent an hour in the middle of the afternoon at a local park, where there was actual SAND on the ground instead of that spongy recycled tire product used on our favorite playground in Virginia, I enthusiastically supported the bath idea.

So there I was washing grit out of Beanie’s curls while her shark made shark-like lunges at Rose’s orca. Beanie was singing, and it took me a minute to realize I was hearing one of Scott’s favorite Beatles melodies.

"What did you just sing?" I asked Bean.

"It wasn’t me," she said. "It was my shark."

"Oh. Right. Could he sing it again?"

"He’d be delighted to!" When you’re Beanie, even sharks are obliging. She lunged him at the orca again, singing louder.

"I wanna hold your fi-i-iiin, I wanna hold your fin!"