Monday, November 13, 2017

Marisa Tomei as Aunt May

Last night for a family movie we watched the most recent Spider-Man installment on DVD. Spider-Man: Homecoming features Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, a much younger and very attractive version of the comic book character. This Aunt May was first seen in Captain America: Civil War, when the latest incarnation of Spider-Man was introduced. 

It seems that Marisa Tomei always plays a lovable character, and her Aunt May is no exception. She perfectly blends the maternal and the sensual, with a quirky, Bohemian style. 

I will soon be turning 49, and Marisa also has a December birthday and will be 53. Being four years my senior, she's my perfect style and beauty mentor. Marisa does not look like a victim of Botox or plastic surgery. I love her waist-length hair and not-trying-to-be-cool eyeglasses. Her clothes and jewelry are simple, and her trim waist is to-die-for. Marissa's Aunt May is totally a look to which I can aspire! I hope I can find some ugly glasses like hers at my next eye doctor appointment...


Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Daily Minimalist

I received Zara Fagen's book, Minimalist Homeschooling, a couple of days ago, and I dived right in! What it amounts to is a do-it-yourself workshop for discerning your homeschooling values, prioritizing subjects, and resetting your mind to a paradigm of plenty. I'm reading the book with my journal open and pen in hand. 

I'm reordering Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing magic of Tidying Up from the library. Using these two guides together, I'm going to bring order to my home--and my life--once and for all! My key words for this new year are simplicity and contentment. These words encapsulate the minimalist philosophy for me. 

I've changed the byline of Organic Mothering to "The Daily Minimalist" (yes, a bit of borrowing from "The Daily Connoisseur" blog by Jennifer L. Scott!). My plan is to blog a little bit about this journey on a more regular basis, except for Sundays, which are all about rest. Posts will be short and sweet, and I hope, inspiring. 

Today is all about laundry. I got seriously behind again. Clothing is the first category to declutter with the "KonMari Method". I don't have much to do in this area, since I've already pared down my wardrobe. But I recently bought some new items from Dress Barn, and it helps to have all your clothing clean in order to determine what pieces you may wish to purge...  

After clothing comes books. We pared them down in my house, but they are sitting in boxes waiting to be sold to a used book store an hour away! Just moving clutter somewhere else is no good. It needs to leave the house, my friends. Our homeschool co-op has a curriculum sale coming up next week. Whatever doesn't sell there will join the boxes heading to the book store. So in the next two weeks the first two categories for decluttering will be knocked out. Who wants to minimize daily with me?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Ancient History Studies Update

It's hard to believe we are already into the first week of November! I want to update readers on the progress of my history-based unit studies plans. Since my last post, I've found a great blog focused on minimalist homeschooling, "Zara, PhD" ( The linked post begins a series on implementing a minimalist homeschooling mindset. I have also ordered Zara's book, Minimalist Homeschooling, from Amazon, and I'm sure I'll be reflecting a great deal on her wisdom. It just so happens that Zara is Catholic, so that's a bonus!

I've continued to work on paring down the curriculum during this fall term and to create a schedule that is set and easy to follow. It has been difficult to release the Charlotte Mason mindset regarding spreading a huge feast of books and subjects. My goal was to have only a daily list of subjects, but I ended up reverting to including a loop of additional subjects. Not only that, but I was doubling up on some of the daily subjects as well! I was perpetually clogging my mind with worry about how I could juggle it all. I finally tossed Spanish out of the curriculum for now. I know, incredulous gasp! But baby steps to minimalism it must be.

I plan to get back to the Spanish, but first I need to sort out our priority subjects and focus on them. First things first. Zara, PhD is going to hold my hand through this, but I've already made a start. Basically, the top 3 subjects that are most important at this time are math, writing, and literature. Now, integrating subjects is a great way to go about simplifying things. Tomorrow we'll be finished with Seton's Bible History: Old Testament book. That one book incorporated reading, religion, and history. But we haven't worked in Seton's Religion book for awhile, which is the formal catechism we are using this year, continuing from last year. At this rate, we'll be in this book forever!

You will hear folks in homeschooling circles admonish that finishing a book and checking items off a list does not constitute learning. That may be true, but if you spread your efforts across too many books and subjects, the learning will be thin. It's a good thing to spend enough quality time with a book, to go deeply into the subject--and it's a good thing to finish the book. Dragging books out due to lack of consistency is self-defeating. The priority subjects will constitute our daily core, and then subjects of secondary importance (but still key to our unit studies) will be looped. The Catholic Faith permeates the curriculum, but especially as this is Beezy's sacrament of Confirmation year, I don't want to neglect religion as its own subject.

Beezy is still working on her Hanging Gardens of Babylon art project, from Draw and Write Through History. I think she'll finish it this week. So the Old Testament unit will be wrapped up this week, culminating with a study guide I designed and a test. Then next week we'll move on to ancient Egypt!

Our reading/history book will be Cleopatra of Egypt by Leonora Hornblow (Landmark Books). The brilliant aspect with this book is that Cleopatra's world covers the entire territory for our ancient history studies--Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the Bible Lands!

I decided to make writing very simple. In addition to cursive writing, Beezy will have one other writing assignment per day. This can include dictation lessons, written narrations, answering chapter questions, poetry or other creative writing, letters to grandparents, personal journaling, etc... I found a Writer's Express handbook at our homeschool co-op to use as a guide for different types of writing.

We're using Saxon Math now, and it's such a relief to have a solid program to follow. I no longer have anxiety about teaching math! We will use this program all the way through high school, as far as Beezy is able to go into the higher math subjects.

I'll just leave you with the schedule I have planned for the remainder of this term (until Christmas break). Daily subjects are math, literature/history, piano practice, and English. The loop includes art, religion, geography, and science/health. These subjects will be rotated throughout the week, or each may get a few days or more at a time, depending on the need. This works out to 5 subjects covered daily, for a 4-day week.

Remember that life itself and extracurricular activities can take care of some of the subjects. Every subject does not need to be covered every day, every term. When you look at my entire schedule, all of the required school subjects are covered (according to the requirements of my state). It is minimalist and simple, yet we have attained the variety and depth characteristic of a liberal arts curriculum. 

Daily Core: (Open with Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens)

- Saxon Math
- Literature/History: Cleopatra of Egypt
- Piano practice
- English (cursive, grammar, writing skills)


- Religion
- Science/Health
- Art
- Geography


- Piano lessons
- Tumbling class
- Religious Ed. class
- Choir and Musical Theater co-op classes

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Our New Homeschool Room!

   The fall chill has finally really arrived, complete with frost on the grass this morning. This means our days of homeschooling on the front porch have come to an end. And besides, there's a family of kittens and their mama living on the porch, and I'm allergic.
   This, combined with my husband working mostly from home now, inspired me to create a homeschool room. We've always just done lessons in the living room, but with it being right next to the dining room where Husband works, this is no longer convenient. Also, since we just started using Saxon Math, we really need a table space on a daily basis. 
   I'd considered making the homeschool room in what was once my dance studio, and where Beezy practices on the piano keyboard. But this room is going to take a lot of time to overhaul. So for now I've set up the lesson area in our front hallway. We and our visitors typically come in the back door. My only concern is that there will be too cold a draft in the winter, though hopefully Husband can do some weather proofing. And by then I should have the other room finished.
   As you can see from the pictures, we decorate for Halloween! Our home was built in 1908 and has a lot of great vintage features.

      The brown train case on top of the table was a gift from my sister. She found it in the attic of her house. It had belonged to an elderly woman who lived there previously, and it has my initials! (This is our "Math Box".) The lamp belonged to one of my great-grandmothers, and the lace "shade" is actually a chapel veil over a clear glass hurricane cover. The wooden chairs, which you can view in the photo at the top, were salvaged during a big trash pick-up day in our town. The toy horse is a souvenir from Poland which an old neighbor brought me as a thanks for taking care of his cat.

    This shelf unit holds all of the books we're using for this school year. The basket on top contains the books we're currently using this week. 

The desk-chair and globe were a gift from my mother and were discovered at a used furniture store.

   And a few more pics...

   I probably should have used the flash for at least some of these, but I think you can see that we get a lot of natural light. I hoped you've enjoyed your visit to my home!!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Goodbye, Things (Book Review)

I had to wait awhile for my turn to borrow Fumio Sasaki's Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism from the library, but it was worth it. I'm not actually finished reading it yet, but I've been so inspired, I just had to share!

Fumio is a single, childless man who lives by himself in a small apartment in Tokyo. He was once a maximalist living with messy heaps of books, CDs, clothes, an antique camera collection that he never used, and various miscellany. He literally lived in the dark, too overwhelmed to open the blinds. He drank too much and squandered his time on video games.

When I was a single gal, I had my own small, cluttered, messy apartment. I didn't play video games or sit around drinking too much, and my lifestyle was interesting, active, and creative. But I can relate to how having too much stuff and living in chaos held me back from feeling as confident, capable, and joyful as I could have. And the thing is, decades later, living with a family in a much bigger space, I am still struggling with clutter. Yes, I've made much progress and have cultivated better habits, but I just wish I had discovered minimalism while I was still single!

I got a lot of help from Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I must admit to becoming stalled and never finishing the project, which should have taken only six months. I think her idea of paring down by categories is genius. At the same time, there's something so encouraging about seeing an entire room that is finished.

I started with my bedroom, because the space where you sleep should be a sanctuary. Since I've been reading Fumio's book, I'm looking suspiciously at the books in my bedroom, which I did pare down, and thinking that more of them need to go. But I'm going to write a post specifically about book addiction later! I also have some jewelry on the my dresser that I could pare down, and there are a few things left in my closet that I ought to part with.

Fumio lives much more simply than I would want to. I find interior decorating to be a joy, and I like expressing myself creatively with my wardrobe. I'm not into the "uniform" look, which Fumio adopted from his minimalist hero, Steve Jobs. But even here, I can learn from the idea of honing in on a certain style and owning less clothing, making it easier and less time consuming to get dressed and do laundry.

This young man is not against housework, however. He loves keeping house, because the results of a clean, uncluttered home are so beneficial, and it takes him very little time to accomplish his tasks. Charlotte Mason would wholly approve of Fumio's emphasis on positive habit formation!

This week Ive been digging into my kitchen cupboards while my husband is working out of the house. A woman needs a well-functioning kitchen! I had gotten to a place where I wasn't inspired to cook anymore, and I think this decluttering and reorganizing process is going to take care of that problem. I'm looking forward to going to the farmers market and grocery store today!

It takes time, diligence, and persistence to pare down one's belongings and tidy one's home. But as Fumio has attested, it does change your life. He's a new man, and I want to be a new woman! I want to live better, more fully and meaningfully. Paradoxically, this means living more simply and being content with what you have.

The only criticism I have of Goodbye, Things is that Fumio tends to repeat himself, but I think he revisits stories in order to make an additional point.

My laptop battery is running low, so that's my cue to get moving! Read Fumio's book so we can discuss!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Minimalist Homeschooling

Now that we're about a month into our homeschool year, I can evaluate how the new, minimalist schedule is working out. I did so much planning beginning last spring, tweaking things (way too many times!) over the summer, and fretting about this thing called Jr. High. But I also prayed a lot, and that makes all the difference. I was very well prepared, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by how smoothly things are humming along. Yet I find myself amazed! I am converted to minimalism.

I decided not, at this time, to try to do a double history-based unit study, combining the Old Testament and Victorian England themes. We're sticking with ancient history, focusing right now on the Old Testament. We begin each lesson time with prayer and a Bible reading. Since we began with King Solomon in our Bible History book, the Bible readings are coming from the books he authored--Proverbs, Canticle of Canticles, and Wisdom. This also comprises our poetry study!

For literature right now, we're simply doing free reading. This means that my daughter got to choose from among 10 books of literary value that we already had in the house. She simply reads a chapter each day to herself and is not required to do vocabulary lessons, analysis, chapter questions, narrations, or anything but enjoy it! This is also a practice used in schools which is believed to be of great benefit for the child's language arts skills. (They call it Sustained Silent Reading, or SSR, 'cause you gotta have an acronym for a thing to be real, right? Here's an article on its benefits: Beezy also reads a novel of her own choosing each night before bed. One of my primary goals this year is to facilitate more independent reading.

We have covered a couple of chapters in A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer) on the "Bible Lands" but won't continue with that until be get to the chapter on Babylon in Bible History in a few weeks. At that point Beezy will begin working on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon art project in the Draw and Write Through History book. In the meantime we are reading about prehistoric art in The Story of Painting (Jansen) and a book from the library. 

Our spelling words come from dictation lessons. Misspelled words are copied three times, followed by a test. We're also going to work through The Everything Kids Spelling Book, which I got from the library. I think it will be beneficial to go through the rules and get more practice in this area. Another major goal is to step up the writing skills, so in addition to dictation, Beezy has cursive writing (or copy work), journal writing, and written narrations. She also still does the occasional oral narration. Note taking, book reports, and literary elements and devices will also be introduced this year.

I think the rest of the schedule is self-explanatory, but don't hesitate to ask for more clarification in the comments! For those who are new to the blog, this curriculum is for my 7th grader. We have pared down our Catholic Charlotte Mason schedule and are trying out history-based unit studies. We are basically tracking 12 subjects, and a few more with extracurricular activities. Only 7 subjects are done per day. The liberal arts feast is being spread, but it doesn't feel like a circus trick to keep up with. In fact, this feels to me like the most perfect balance I've ever achieved!

Catholic Homeschool Schedule 2017–2018

Old Testament Unit

Daily Core: (Open with prayer and Bible reading)

- Total Math
- Free reading: Into the Land of the Unicorns (Coville)
- Piano practice
- Cursive writing (Seton)

Twice Weekly Loop:

- Grammar (CHC)
- Learn Spanish with Grace!
- Health: The Feelings Book (journal writing)
- Spelling

Weekly Loop:

- Bible History (Seton)
- Prehistoric Art (dictation)
- Religion (Seton)
- Nature Study: Some Animals and Their Homes (written narration)


- Piano lessons
- Tumbling class
- Religious education class
- Choir and Musical Theater homeschool co-op classes

Monday, August 28, 2017

Toward a Catholic Philosophy of Education

While doing some housekeeping chores today, I turned on Catholic Radio and happily encountered a discussion on Catholic education. Unfortunately I missed some of it, but I was able to tune into large portions of the show over the hour. I didn't catch the name of the man being interviewed, but he was someone in charge of the St. Augustine homeschooling enrichment program in the Toledo, Ohio area. 

He said something that amazed me: The Mass is the center of a Catholic liberal arts education. I'd never heard it put this way before. Homeschoolers who take their children to daily Mass are on the right track! 

This program guest discussed the need for Catholic schools to return to a classical method of education. In one sense, he said, the purpose of classical education is the cultivation of virtue, the idea of how to live fully as a human being. He listed philosophy, theology, history, literature, mathematics, and the sciences as traditional liberal arts subjects. I think foreign language study was also included. I may be leaving something out, but that's what I remember. What we are talking about is the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty for their own sake.

He explained that some people think that Socratic dialogue is classical education; but what that really entailed was Socrates talking at great length and then his listeners either agreeing or disagreeing with him! A liberal arts education more accurately draws the learner out with questions on the material, and subsequent discussions develop from them.

I have mentioned this point in previous posts as being at odds with Charlotte Mason, who did not believe in putting questions to the child. To be sure, we do not want to take on a quizzing attitude, but I think we do need to incorporate a few well-chosen questions now and again, while focusing on the conversational aspect. This would be a very Thomas Aquinas style approach.

I personally prefer the term "liberal arts" to "classical", simply because it encompasses a broader definition than the exclusively Trivium-focused or Latin-centered styles in vogue today. And I believe that a liberal arts education can be achieved whether one uses a traditional curriculum package, such as Seton Home Study; a guide to books and lesson plans which implements classical teaching techniques, such as Mother of Divine Grace; or a self-designed course of study such as that outlined in Elizabeth Foss's Real Learning. Catholic Heritage Curricula incorporates both "traditional" and "classical" education methods and is Charlotte Mason friendly.

The fine arts were also mentioned in the radio program as those pursuits which bring the joy of being human into our lives.

I find it very telling regarding the dubious course of modern American education, that entire majors in the humanities, such as philosophy, are being removed from universities, and others, such as English, are being drastically reduced. This is most likely in response to the Common Core Curriculum standards which are dumbing down education in America's schools. While technological and trade skills are immensely advantageous in finding a good job, as Charlotte Mason stressed, a liberal arts education should be the foundation for making one the best person possible, no matter what field one enters. 

From what I've been able to discern from extensive reading on the subject over the summer, and what the radio show helped to click into place, an authentically Catholic education could be summed up with three basic principles: 

1. Parents are the primary and principle educators of their children. 

2. The Catholic Faith must permeate the entire curriculum via an organized, liberal arts framework, serving to educate the whole person. 

3. A broad and general sense of what we need to know as human beings is transferred in a shared body of knowledge and wisdom, both in terms of what we can understand via human reason and what we learn from divine revelation. 

These principles could be elaborated upon, but I think that is the crux of the matter. They explain what is meant by scholasticism, the marriage of faith and reason which characterizes a classic Catholic education. I have to agree with Charlotte Mason in that the course of study should not be directed by the child's interests, though plenty of time is left in the day to explore those. I think in this respect, CM's philosophy is perfectly in line with Catholic teaching. Naturally, as the Church teaches, children will be allowed a gradual increase in independence and decision-making as they mature.

Last night I was listening to a podcast on youtube featuring Dr. Mary Hood on the topic of relaxed homeschooling. She put the obtaining of knowledge at the bottom of her educational goals. This would not be in line with a liberal arts education, and Charlotte Mason would certainly disagree. Charlotte believed that a broad and generous curriculum of knowledge was the very thing children needed to feed their minds and souls. They should be educated on the ideas of the best minds, chiefly through living books, but also by way of direct experiences and observations. 

What Mary Hood and Miss Mason would likely agree upon is the necessity of cultivating communication skills. Dr. Hood stated these as reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. All of these are fostered in a liberal arts education. 

Can textbooks fit into this liberal arts picture? I think a combination of classical methods, using original sources and living books, along with some judiciously chosen, traditional text/workbooks is ideal. It helps to have a framework around which to build the course of study, especially if one wishes to base it upon historical periods. As the historical worldview needs to be specifically Catholic according to the Church, a selection of Catholic history text/workbooks is exceedingly helpful to the busy homeschooling parent. However, each of us will find the best combination of resources for our homeschools. My idea is but one among many.

In the homeschool enrichment program that the man on the radio directs, children learn about four blocks of history in a four-year rotation; so children of different ages are learning through the same period of history, but at different levels. Children of multiple ages in the same family can then discuss the ideas and facts being learned together! This sounds a lot like the history-based unit studies approach I am implementing this year. 

While you might have to dig a little harder to get a firm grasp on an authentic Catholic pedagogy, as opposed to the proliferation of material on various homeschooling methods, the Church does provide us with the only philosophy we really need in her catechism and papal encyclicals on education, parenting, and family life. We have the stories of the Bible and the saints to guide us in virtue. We can utilize a few classical techniques and choose from a number of Catholic curriculum providers (and the library!) to help us achieve our goals for our children. We can tailor the education to the individual child and to our unique family situations.

Most of all we need confidence as Catholic homeschoolers that we are doing the very best thing for our children, and Holy Mother Church gives this to us. The best thing we can do is to know our Faith well and to study the teachings of the Church on education. An excellent overview is given on these teachings in Catholic Home Schooling by Mary Kay Clark, founder of Seton Home Study School. 

What I'm hoping to accomplish with all this is to encourage Catholic home educators to let go of obsessing over philosophies and methods and to focus instead on being Catholic. "Liberal arts" does not have to become yet another label. If you are teaching and living the Faith with your children and providing them with a Catholic worldview in the curriculum, and giving them a broad and generous course of study oriented toward virtue, you can't really go wrong. And though it might seem counterintuitive, even a minimalist curriculum approach can thoroughly reflect the liberal and fine arts. But that's a topic for next time!!