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 brings up stories again 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, we're going the Charlotte Mason route and 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!!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Old Testament/Victorian England Unit Study

Since Beezy's musical theater class with the homeschooling co-op will be putting on Mary Poppins, I felt inspired to create a Victorian England unit study. Yet I didn't want to disrupt the ancient history schedule I already had planned. (See the June 23 post, My Simplest Homeschooling Schedule Ever!) 

The solution I came up with was to combine the Old Testament and Victorian England units! I did not have a literary novel chosen for the O.T. unit, so Beezy will be reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which takes place in the Victorian Era. Chapter 80 of Hillyer's A Child's History of the World will introduce the time period, and other Victorian/Edwardian selections will be worked in. Beezy will still do the Hanging Gardens of Babylon art project from Draw and Write Through History, but instead of prehistoric art, she'll study Beatrix Potter. Nature studies will focus on the flora and fauna popular with the Victorians and featured in Potter's artwork. Our poet study is the lovely Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I'll keep you posted as the unit develops. Cheerio!!

Vintage Catholic Daily Homeschool Schedule, 2017–2018

Term 1, Old Testament/Victorian England Unit Study

1. Hamilton's Arithmetic/Total Math

2. Piano Practice

3. Bible History/A Child's Geography/Child's History of the World
(sub in The Country Artist and The Royal Diaries: Victoria)

4. Spanish/Religion

5. Language of God/Handwriting

6. Nature Study: Some Animals & Their Homes/ABC's of Nature

7. Art & Poetry: Hanging Gardens Project/The Art of Beatrix Potter
(sub in Pressed Flowers Book Marks/Alfred, Lord Tennyson/Song of Songs)

8. Free Reading: The Secret Garden

Religious Education Class
Horseback Riding Lessons
Homeschool Co-op Choir & Musical Theater (Mary Poppins)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

No Baggage Book Review, Hygge, & a Day at the Beach

I just finished reading No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love & Wandering by Clara Bensen, a travel memoir I eagerly devoured in three days. I found it when I did a library search on the topic of minimalism. Clara is a 25-year-old who met Jeff, an older university professor, through an online dating group. A magical connection ensued, and a month after their meeting, Clara joined Jeff for a 21-day, overseas tour beginning with Istanbul and finishing in London. The catch: no baggage, no reservations. Jeff carried everything in his pockets, and Clara brought a small purse. They wore the same clothing for the entire trip.

I was immediately intrigued upon learning that Clara came from a loving, evangelical Christian home and was homeschooled. Her uncommonly good writing skills and obvious intelligence and wit were encouraging. She seemed to have no misgivings about being homeschooled, and she had a close relationship with her parents. Yet through the experience of college life she lost her moral compass. Upon facing the harsh realities of the 2008 housing market crash following her graduation, she spiraled down a two-year rabbit hole of mental illness.

Her prose is laced with profanity and stories of sex outside of marriage. I could relate to much of her twenty-something experiences, having been negatively influenced by the college culture myself, then becoming very depressed after graduating in late 1991 during a major recession. I too had grown up in a Christian home and lost my way. It's a cautionary tale. It's also an inspiring one.

I spent the day at a state park beach with my family and a friend of Beezy's this past Friday. I finally felt myself sink into summer. The tension I'd been holding in the core of my being melted in the hot sun and floated away in the waves of the lake. I wore a blue, cotton gauze dress I found at Good Will that is so comfortable and pretty I could wear it every day, just like Clara wore the same green frock for three weeks straight. Traveling so light was almost anticlimactic, so easy it turned out to be. I would not want to repeat her "couch surfing" experience, not knowing where she and Jeff were going to sleep from night to night. But I could imagine just a carpet bag of my possessions and maybe a house swapping situation, where I could cook and have a home base. And then make day trips to other destinations, rather than sitting on buses and trains for 24 hours at a time and hitchhiking.

So back to the beach. I've also been reading a few library books about hygge, the Danish concept of a certain experience of quiet happiness and comfort. Hygge, pronounced hoo-ga, is about simple pleasures, companionship, hominess and coziness, a strong connection to nature, and a feeling of deep peace and well-being. It's one of those ideas that's foreign to us Americans and difficult to define. But when I was sitting there on the beach, completely being in the present moment, with no shred of anxiety or irritation, enjoying the company of the people I was with, and even the strangers, I got it. This is hygge. 

Having found my summer groove not until the 2nd half of July, I am seriously considering not starting our homeschooling back up until after Labor Day. I know, so radical! Such a risk! But it has only been in the past couple of decades that the beginning of school got pushed earlier and earlier, till the kids are now slumping to the bus stop with their back packs in the middle of August. I have an appointment with a pain specialist for a consultation about my lower back, hoping that an epidural steroid injection might enable me to sit for long periods in a car again. I have a dream of traveling with my family in a RV and spending copious amounts of time in woods and meadows and by lakes and streams. Lots of people "road school"! Why not leave town at the precise moment that everyone else goes back to the grind? Even if we don't embark on an epic journey, we can do the day-tripping thing from our own home base. And we can keep on lightening our load of possessions and worries.

In addition to my blue thrift store dress, I also picked up a plum purple, Old Navy tank top. Purple was not a color in the stores this year, and the top was an item I desperately needed. I was thrilled to find two pieces of clothing that I absolutely love, in excellent used condition, for a total of $10. This is how I want to dress myself always, only in those items that bring me joy to put on. It's difficult to find clothing that one would put in the "love" category, so it logically follows that one's wardrobe would have to be minimalist.

The moral of the story is that there is hope for the fallen Clara, who most likely by her mother's ardent prayers (and unbeknownst to herself) made her way back to the land of the living. She was brave enough to take a risk on love. Surely she took too many risks, but she trusted her intuition and was willing to experiment with a different way of being in the world. She had the courage to face her demons head on. There is hope for the fallen you and me as well. I heard an adage once that dissolved me in tears, and every so often it whispers in the forefront of my mind:

At the end of your life, these three things matter most--
How much did you love,
how well did you live your life,
and how deeply did you learn to let go...

Friday, July 14, 2017


Take heed and guard yourselves from all covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  Luke 12:15

It seems to me that the simplicity/slow/minimalism movement is at its heart about authenticity. Life in modern society is focused upon trying to be like other people--mostly people we don't know, people we see in magazines, on social media and television. Or if we do sort of know them, we want to be like the versions of themselves that they want other people to see and believe. Why do we do this, grasshoppers?

We don't know ourselves, so we think we need other people to help us figure out what we like and don't like, what our true style is, what our secret purpose is in life. We create fantasy selves.

If I don't orient my life around who I am in the eyes of God, then I truly don't know who I am. I'm not rooted, and I float around willy-nilly. I have to intentionally spend time, daily, in prayer, reading the Bible, and contemplation. I also have to spend time regularly in creation, going outside, noticing the birds, insects, and flowers, being active.

I have to see myself as a child of God and of Mary, as a sister of Jesus. As a member of the mystical body of Christ, which is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I have to make a concerted effort to see all others as made in the image and likeness of God. And if I miss Mass for whatever reason, things begin to fall apart.

When we declutter and pare down our possessions; when we eat local, organic food and keep a compost heap in our yards; when we strictly limit the time we spend plugged into devices; when we walk in the woods, have dinner together as a family, and stop making an idol of busyness, we become authentic. When we stop focusing on ourselves and tend to the needs of others, we become more of who we were meant to be.

We must stop wanting what other people have. We must quit trying to be like other people, or who other people think we are or should be. We have to recognize the addiction to possessions, and in a sense, to value things more than we do. A true materialism values quality over quantity and is content with having enough. Our society teaches us to see things as disposable and easily replaceable. This attitude then gets extended to people. It's imperative that we learn to appreciate what we have and be good stewards of our possessions; and to treat all people and creatures with kindness and dignity.

Searching for your "authentic Self" is a bit narcissistic, isn't it? Authenticity isn't self-conscious, and it doesn't need constant entertainment and novelty. Go deeper with what you have. Get outside of yourself and serve others. Lose yourself, and all the baggage, to find yourself. Rejoice and be glad.

Friday, June 23, 2017

My Simplest Homeschool Schedule Ever!

A couple of days ago I got our homeschooling "approval" letter from the local school superintendent. The paperwork for our state is of course necessary, but the approval can't be denied as long as everything is in order. Still, it's nice to have the formalities completed and not to have any loose ends hanging over my head!

I've been doing a lot of journaling lately as part of my contemplative, devotional practice. I do believe that as I pray over our homeschool, the Holy Spirit guides me, especially by way of intuitive insights. One day a couple of weeks ago while I was writing, I made a list of subjects--handwriting, math, piano, reading, art, and Spanish. Can you imagine what Charlotte Mason would have thought about a mere six subjects?!  I fleshed this out to seven daily subjects/books, based upon the unit studies I have planned. (Notice, there are no loop schedules!) I'll enumerate them first, and then explain how the system will work. 

1. Bible History/Geography
    (sub in Religion and Songs of Songs)
2. Hamilton's Arithmetic (supplemented with Total Math)
3. Cursive Writing (Seton)
4. Learn Spanish with Grace!
5. Language of God (CHC grammar)
6. Art Project/Nature Study
    (sub in The Story of Painting/Prehistoric Art/The Feelings 
7. Piano Practice

The first unit I've created for the upcoming fall term is based on the Old Testament. Since Beezy already read an Old Testament historical novel this past spring term, King David and His Songs (Windeatt), Seton's Bible History: Old Testament will serve as her primary reading text. I will be reading aloud the relevant chapters from A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer), for which Beezy will write narrations. So the first "subject" is actually History/Geography, alternating twice each in a four-day week. (Fridays Beezy will have Choir and Musical Theater classes with a homeschooling co-op.) 

We will finish the Geography chapters before the Bible History (which will cover King Solomon to the end of the book), so then Seton's Religion 6 for Young Catholics book will be subbed in (continued from this past school year), as well as passages from the Songs of Songs; incorporating copy work, dictation, and memory recitation. The Song of Songs is poetry, so you can see how more subjects are being worked in than initially meets the eye...

Art projects for this year will come from Draw and Write Through History, the first one being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Art will alternate with Nature Study, for which we will be using Some Animals and Their Homes. When the art project is finished, we'll read the first section in The Story of Painting (Jansen, cave paintings), followed by Prehistoric Art (Hodges). From there we'll alternate between Some Animals and Their Homes and The Feelings Book from American Girl, which will be one of our Health topics. 

Obviously this is not a "true" unit study, because all subjects are not related to the central theme of the Old Testament. The next topic, Ancient Egypt, will be more comprehensive. I think that this approach is going to be rich and varied enough in subjects/books, while keeping to a more multum non multa, classical philosophy. We will go more deeply into subjects, and the course of study will be more unified. And all of the books for the unit can fit into Beezy's workbox, including her composition and nature notebooks! I'm hoping to keep each unit to about six weeks. 

In addition to the homeschooling co-op, Beezy will have weekly piano and horseback riding lessons, and tumbling classes. 

So what do you think of my new, pared down schedule for the 7th grade? I can't wait to try it out, but for now we are all about summer!