Tag Archives: homeschooling

The Music of My Life

The third chapter of The Hidden Art of Homemaking is the impetus for this post. It is titled simply “Music,” and continues the theme of how Christians might express their creativity in their varied and unique circumstances. I am participating in the discussion of the book on Cindy’s blog, Ordo Amoris. This is a long post and I apologize — you would be smart to skip it and go do something creative!

It might have been 30 years ago that I first read Hidden Art, and I wrote on the day of the author’s death how important it was in developing a vision for my life. At the time of its publication in 1971 I don’t think there was anything else like it, but feminists were writing plenty about the stifling life of the typical housewife. It was lovely to have laid out before me many concrete examples of interesting people and their home-enriching activities.

Just a couple of years later, Karen Mains wrote Open Heart, Open Home, which also contributed to my Christian vision, on the theme of hospitality. And I was married in the early 70’s, and enjoying keeping house and garden even before the children started arriving. When the house began to fill with kids, I never lacked for creative projects and plans.

But I hadn’t even read Schaeffer’s book yet. My young-married-childbearing years were overflowing with culture and creativity, and I could not relate to the reader Edith seemed to be writing for, someone who is frustrated, locked up, or unfulfilled (her words).

Only recently have I been able to look back over my life and see with more understanding (I hope) why the story reads the way it does. I needed time to think, and I needed to see more of the plot toward the end, before I could notice how the first chapters fit with middle parts of my saga.

Part I contained an excess of family drama, as we call it these days, emotional and psychological stress that I didn’t get any help dealing with. If you have a splitting headache it is hard to tap into your creativity. It’s the same with emotional pain, maybe more so when it isn’t diagnosed or even acknowledged, but stays like an always-freshening wound that makes you want to move as little as possible.

Me in Part II

What brought me into Part II was getting married to a good man and empowered to create my own story, free of distracting pain. The setting was calm and clear and full of the hope of the gospel. It was somewhat the opposite of what Schaeffer talks about, because being home was my obvious opportunity to do just about anything. I had had no lack of examples and ideas; actually, the hippie era for me segued into a homesteading spirit a la The Mother Earth News. And there were all the creative people I’d known growing up (just about everyone), while I was storing up tinder for my creative fires.

I see that I have mixed a few metaphors here trying to tell my story — or am I writing the score for the symphony that has been playing out? Though this chapter is about music, it seems as good a place as any to bring up what seem to me to be realities on which our artistic life is built. They apply to music, too.

I received little musical training as a child, and I had no career that I had to put on the back burner. But growing up in church was good ear-training, and even in the Girl Scouts and in public school we sang a lot. I was lucky to marry a musician, and by means of his guitar and my singing we filled the house and our children’s ears with music.

We sang in the car, using songbooks I wrote out by hand. We sang around the campfire. We parents sat on the bedroom floor and crooned lullabies to our children every night. And in church I helped the young readers to develop fluency while hymn-singing, running my finger along the page under the words while they looked on. But I don’t know how to read music.

At first there wasn’t money for music lessons, and I wept over the injustice of a world in which my firstborn had no opportunity for a more structured musical education. Then grandparents and great-grandparents stepped in and God provided a generous piano teacher two blocks from our house. From that time forth the provisions continued in various ways, so that eventually all of our five children learned to play at least one instrument. The photos are of them and a grandson enjoying their music. Two of our daughters became piano teachers in their teens.

But for many families, music is not something they can really accomplish. My parents could not provide it for me, but it all worked out o.k. Some women find that their distracting drama only starts when they marry, or when a child falls ill. There are women for whom getting through the day is like climbing a steep mountain, and while they might be relieved to stop and smell the flowers, it’s asking a lot to tell them they ought to get out the seed catalog and develop a plan for further landscaping. But I suppose they aren’t the ones reading Hidden Art.

When Schaeffer says things like, “Christian homes should…be places where there is the greatest variety of good music,” I balk at the word should. I don’t know how she might otherwise have presented a picture of what she considers the ideal home, but every time she says we should do this or that to develop our creative side — and in the short Chapter 2 she used the word nine times — I get annoyed that she is telling me what my Christian duty is.

To me that’s backwards, because I can’t recall ever doing one creative homemaking thing out of a sense of duty, though I firmly believe we are all obligated to do our duty. To fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man, according to Ecclesiastes (Not that we can even accomplish those basics on our own). It seems to me that the rest, the art and music and beauty, flow naturally from a human soul that is nurtured by God’s love — just as sap running up a tree trunk results in bright leaves and colorful fruit. The main thing is not to tell the tree to make fruit, but to keep the connection to the life-giving Fountain — Who is also the One who heals all those diseases of the heart that might hinder us.

What do you know — beauty in our life is one of the healing potions God provides. So if we start with small things that brighten our homes, say, singing a few lines from a hymn over the kitchen sink, or teaching a nursery rhyme to a toddler, just in response to the impulse, we are creating culture and feeding our own souls. It keeps the sap running, and the more the tree grows, the more sap and delicious fruit there will be.

Since Edith Schaeffer wrote this book and What is a Family, the only two of hers that I have read, thousands of families have discovered that homeschooling provides the opportunities to build the kind of family life and culture that the author presents a vision for. Just give us enough time with our children and all these good things are more likely to happen. The vision she sets forth was an ingredient in the soil that nourished my own heart and gave me the courage I needed. All the rest is in Part II, Part III, and still writing… Oh, and still singing new songs!

 

Days Empty and Full

Me in a past epoch

It’s the season for extolling the benefits of homeschooling. January in this Northern Hemisphere brings cold gales and pouring rain, and who wants to go out? Who wouldn’t want to build a wood fire, curl up with a book and some kiddos on your lap, and glory in having a cozy nest?

Children need time and space and quiet, people say, so that they can concentrate, and not be constantly interrupted to run errands or take part in some group activity out of the home. I agree heartily. I’m not going to post links to these blogs because there are too many good ones. You’ve probably read or written one yourself.

And I realized, as I was pondering the excellent explanations, that I am one of those children still. I had the kind of upbringing that some people might look at and say, “How boring!” But I never felt that. I thrived in the timelessness of those long country days with not much to do. There was always a book or magazine to read, or a letter to write to Grandma, or a new pattern to try sewing. This poem that Marigold posted hints at the blessedness:

Days

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

– Philip Larkin

For over 30 years I had my own children filling my days–at first, it was easy to stay home a lot, and everyone could pay attention to whatever it was they were focused on. As the children got older we were running around more.

Now, I don’t often get a whole day to be home. Going out in the morning, to the gym or shopping, makes it a challenge to gather my wits when I get back home. It seems that I am scattered for hours. I am particularly aware and thankful when I get one of those homey days that I took for granted back then, and this poem that Maria passed on tells how I feel.

PRICELESS GIFTS

An empty day without events.
And that is why
it grew immense
as space. And suddenly
happiness of being
entered me.

I heard
in my heartbeat
the birth of time
and each instant of life
one after the other
came rushing in
like priceless gifts.

~ Anna Swir (1909-1984), Polish poet

Trying to Focus, on a Wintry Day

Into the blowing and pouring rain I forced myself this morning, so that I could use the machines at the gym. While walking on the treadmill for an hour, I read The New Yorker Food Issue from last November. I pick these magazines up at the library for 25 cents each, and usually find at least one article, though not usually in the Food Issue, to keep my attention while I work out. (I have tried many other reading materials, and everything else is either too heady and distracting, or too boring to keep my mind off the discomfort.)

Today I learned about a cake that is baked on a spit for several hours and is called Baumkuchen, which means Tree Cake in German, because some of them are cone-shaped like a tree. These cakes date back to the Middle Ages, and currently are pretty popular in Japan.

I read about poutine, beloved especially of youth in Canada, where I think I could get into eating it, at least in winter, when one might be able to burn enough calories shoveling snow and keeping warm so as not to put on the pounds from enjoying a dish that consists of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.

The Michelin Guide to restaurants took several pages to explain, after the author hung out with one of the inspectors for the company during a meal at a three-star restaurant. These inspectors and their identities are top-secret and incognito, so that they can remain objective and also get the same food and treatment as any old customer who is willing to pay dearly for their daily bread.

Later in the morning I read a blog about how good homeschooling can be if the family actually stays home a lot, so that the children can concentrate on whatever it is they are doing and not be constantly interrupted by having to run hither and thither to group classes and such. That got me thinking about how it is better for me, too, still a self-homeschooler, an autodidact, who always gets confused and scattered when I have to come and go.

I read another blog that linked to an interview with Makoto Fujimura, a Christian Japanese-American artist who has a lot to say about God and creativity. I remembered that I’d heard a different interview with him not long ago on the Mars Hill Audio Journal, and I was able to locate the tape and listen to him. I was not able to multi-task, though; I found that if I tried to find his website at the same time, I stopped listening.

I started to take notes on the audio interview. He was talking about how the habit of reading is even more important to cultivate now that our society is so image-oriented. Also about how all the fast-action images that people are feeding on teach their minds to avoid real concentration. They scan, instead of engaging with visual information in a more focused manner. I was still feeling distracted myself and wondering why I was picking this one topic and writer to think about. Was I randomly and shallowly scanning?

No, I had wanted to listen to him again and think more about these things. But if I hadn’t gone to the gym and taken hours to collect myself afterward, I’m not sure I’d have had so much trouble being calmly thoughtful. In the early afternoon I had to go out again and run errands–more dissipation of mental energies!

I was saved by duty–my husband’s needs were what helped me to pull myself together. We were nearly out of granola, his staff of life. And he would need a real dinner. (Without him, I’d eat eggs and toast and tea forever.) He would like to feel the warmth of a fire as he came in the door from work. When I got a fire kindled and started assembling the granola I was happy to give my attention to concrete and practical tasks.

This granola has fed the family for more than 35 years. I make a huge batch still, so that I don’t have to do it very often, even though B. often eats Power Pancakes for breakfast nowadays. The basic proportions of oats, honey and oil have remained the same, while the extras of nuts, seeds and other grains are infinitely flexible. It doesn’t make a very sweet cold cereal, as you might guess if you compare with other recipes.

GretchenJoanna’s Granola
30-32 cups of regular rolled oats, divided
3-5 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2-5 cups chopped almonds and/or other nuts
0-2 cups each of wheat germ, sesame seeds, buckwheat groats, rice or oat bran
0-1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups oil
2 cups honey (or substitute part sugar syrup, made with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water)
3 tablespoons vanilla, or substitute part almond extract
Put 20 cups of the oats in a giant bowl. Add whatever other dry ingredients appeal. In a pot, heat and stir the wet ingredients gently and slowly together until the honey is liquid. Pour onto the dry ingredients and stir to moisten them thoroughly. Then add the other 10-12 cups of oats and mix in evenly.
Spread up to an inch deep in pans and bake in batches at 300° until as toasty brown as you like it, stirring every ten minutes. Lately I’ve been using big roasting pans that happen to have 2″ sides, but the toasting may happen faster using pans with less lip. I use the biggest pans I have, and both oven racks, so that it doesn’t take all day. 🙂
I store a gallon jar of this on the kitchen counter, and the remainder in the freezer.

I was going to show a photo of the big bowl of finished granola, but my camera battery is spent. So here is a picture of someone enjoying an early version of GJ’s Granola, circa 1977 (notice the gold draperies and tablecloth).

Time for bed now, and thank God, I can end the day having accomplished reading, writing, and homemaking, even if I wasn’t very organized in my concentrating. I want to do better tomorrow.

My Ode

Ten or so years ago our home school was engaging in a poetry study, more focused and meaty than the usual informal enjoyment and memorization. I gave an assignment to the children to write their own “poem of direct address,” and in the spirit of Education is Lifelong and Something You Do to Yourself, I wrote one, too.

Last night B. and I went to a Music and Poetry Night, and I read my poem, along with others not my own, which were more serious and poetic. I will share those later. But for now, here is my

Ode to a Rice Cake

I can’t resist you, rice cake,
Your crunch and subtle flavor.
I cannot see you in your bag
And say “I’ll eat one later.”

My hands reach out compulsively
And stuff you right on in.
My teeth sink into your crispness;
The crumbs drift down my chin.

Others mock and call you sparse,
They say you’re lean and thin.
I alone will sing your praise
For the feast that you have been.

Fluffy, tasty pockets of air,
Plain yet savory food.
You’re a technological wonder:
Complex, simple, and good.

I still feel the same way about these snacks, which is why I don’t normally keep any in the house. Besides, they make an awful mess, and the cat doesn’t care to eat the crumbles off the floor.