Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Small Town Homesteading

This being the last day of July, it will soon be time to get "back to school" and to a more structured daily routine.  My husband, a college professor off work for the summer, will begin teaching again in a few weeks.  I spent some time ordering books from the library today on rainforests, which will be our first science unit for this homeschooling year.  I also have two Ginn Basic Readers that I ordered from Ebay.  Beezy, now 8 years old, loved the 12-book Dick and Jane series, and I wanted to find something similar with which to continue.  This is especially because other readers had failed to interest Beezy, and I want her to love to read.  The Ginn books have a similar, repetitious style and old-fashioned illustrations, being from the same era as Dick and Jane. 

Fall is also typically designated as a season of new beginnings, even though it's the last season of the year.  It's a time of vibrant, visible change in the natural world, a celebration of the harvest, and a time of turning inward in preparation for the coming days of darkness.  There is a magical whispering of possibility and mystery in the air.  So I am naturally starting to contemplate things I want to do differently.  The end of summer boredom and restlessness is starting to settle in already, maybe because spring came so early this year.  

I changed the look of this blog today and tweaked the topics to reflect my new focus: Charlotte Mason homeschooling, small town homesteading, belly dance, style & beauty, and sacred living.  Not all is completely new.  For instance, I have been using the Charlotte Mason homeschooling method since the beginning, but I also used a lot of Montessori.  This year there will be less emphasis on the Montessori Method and more emphasis on Charlotte Mason's living books, narration, nature notebook, and other elements of her method.  I want to spend way more time exploring the natural world, and I want to incorporate hand crafts.  I loved latch hook kits as a child, and I am going to introduce them to Beezy this year.  I also want to continue her sewing lessons with her great-grandmother.

I desire a deepening of the homesteading way of life for my family as well.  But I find that when we get these wonderful visions in our heads, we want to overhaul everything and make radical, sudden changes, which usually don't pan out.  So I'm simply going to start with baking my own bread and pizza crusts this fall, and I have an aunt that wants to teach me to crochet.  Baby steps on the homestead!  I want to take family bike rides in the evenings, and hopefully we'll have a good tomato crop this year for making my husband's awesome homemade sauce.  

Here's to the joy of beginning fresh plans, dreaming a little dream, and keeping it simple--and then reaping the grand harvest of the organic life!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wild English Rose--Summer to Fall Beauty 2012

I have been contemplating lately the persona of the "English Rose".  I think I was inspired by the floral patterned jeans I've been seeing in fashion magazines. Denim is back in a big way, especially colored denim, one of the 80s trends that is actually quite fun even for those of us who were in high school then and are generally alarmed by the come back! Just please, avoid the neon unless you are a teenager. For us stay-at-home mothers especially, casual trends like denim and flat shoes are so welcome. I would, however, also avoid the chambray shirt if you are not quite young, which in my opinion could look a little dowdy, a little too soccer mom-ish. 

But I'm really not here to recommend any particular style. I think we all need to just figure out what flatters our figures and fits our unique personalities and lifestyles and dress accordingly. I am seeking instead to define a quintessential type of beauty that I personally would like to emulate, and that is the classic English Rose, in a certain wild variety. This is the lovely woman with a porcelain complexion (if she is white), clear skin with a soft rosy or peachy glow. The word radiant comes to mind. She looks fresh and innocent (though polished), yet there is a wisdom in her eyes and demeanor, and you just know that you cannot get anything past her. She can see into your soul. She is interested in other people. Even at a crowded party she will draw you close to her and into her secret world, where she wants to know all about you. She only talks about herself if she is asked. She is the "woman of repose" who Sarah Ban Breathnach describes in Simple Abundance.

The original wild English rose was Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765-1815), a courtesan turned aristocratic wife of Sir William Hamilton known for her unrivaled beauty and passionate affair with war hero Lord Nelson during the French Revolution. A favorite muse of artists, she was a creative, artistic force herself, and held immense political sway. In true Shakespearean fashion, after a glamourous, romantic life of abundance, she died destitute and obese. This air of tragedy sometimes surrounds the Wild Rose, but we sigh nonetheless.

Emma, Lady Hamilton by George Romney

Though elegant and in no way course, the Wild English Rose sometimes has a whiff of scandal around her, like Queen Elizabeth's younger sister, Princess Margaret. Or she is in some way unconventional, eccentric, or quietly rebellious (the perfect description of homeschooling mothers!). She can be glamourous, but in her looks and demeanor there is a certain restraint, a wry sense of humor, the feeling that while it looks calm and has been dormant for years, this volcano is still nevertheless a volcano, and there is always that chance it could explode, quite unexpectedly.

 Princess Margaret Rose

In the world of film the Wild English Rose takes on daring roles, or plays women that were unconventionally brassy for their times. Think Kate Winslet's Rose character in Titanic, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, or Julia Ormond in Legends of the Fall.  This type of beauty has its counterpart in many cultures: the sweet, natural beauty with the glowing complexion, unfussy but never a wallflower, who has that untamed streak about her, who dances to the beat of her own drum. She is a study in paradox. She is an enigma. And no one can resist her quiet charm, whether men, children, or other women. She does not inspire jealousy, only admiration, and this is because of the warmth and intense devotion with which she regards others. Salma Hayek is such a Wild Rose, as well as Halle Berry and Zhang Ziyi.

 Kate Winslet in Titanic

In the literary realm we have the likes of Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, and the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily. They were writers of great genius at a time when women did not usually enjoy such a profession. Emily Dickinson was known for wearing all white in brilliant opposition to the dark fashions of her times, and many of these women never married.

 Keira Knightley in a film adaptation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice

So perhaps you would enjoy contemplating the Wild English (or Hispanic, African American, Chinese, etc...) Rose in yourself and see if you can cultivate that certain (almost seemingly lost in today's world) essence of a Lady who is proper and gracious but who exudes that sense of "one unto herself", she who is self-possessed and quietly confident, who speaks up when it counts and avoids needless chatter when it doesn't; who has a commanding presence clothed in softness; and who just might, some night when the moon is full, run with the wolves.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pixar's "Brave" & the Mother-Daughter Relationship

Princess Merida

What sets this princess fairy tale apart from any others I can recall is the centrality of the mother-daughter relationship, as opposed to the usual princess-gets-her-true-love-in-the-end theme. In fact, in this story Queen Elinor, the young heroine Merida's mother, is as prominent a character as her daughter. Elinor is a loving mother and only wants what is best for her daughter, but in typical fashion, Merida has her own ideas for her future. While in America most young women don't have arranged marriages, the choosing of potentials suitors, and the timing of the marriage, is still the status quo in many cultures. So while this tale takes place in ancient Ireland or Scotland (the men wear kilts), it is not really an antiquated theme. And still prevalent even in America today are the pressures on young people by their parents in their choice of college major, career, lifestyle, family size, etc... Elinor's tendency to be harsh, critical, and demanding of her daughter, and her neglect to really listen to Merida, is a familiar issue. Of course, Merida doesn't listen very well to her mother, either!

One thing I liked about this film is that Merida is homeschooled; however, she is not so fond of her mother's choice of subjects--how to be a lady, how to speak properly, how to carry herself, what is expected of a princess, and the like. Merida wants to be off riding her horse, following will-o-the-wisps and having adventures. She is not interested in choosing a husband from among the eldest sons of neighboring tribes. She just isn't ready yet. And if there is one thing common to most children today, it is the state of being hurried. 

Merida has no respect for tradition or her mother's wisdom. Elinor has no interest in hearing about Merida's explorations and discoveries and finds no use in her talent with the bow and arrow. They do not see eye to eye, and neither accepts the other as she is. Each is bent on changing the other; each is stubborn in her own way. Unfortunately, Merida's willfulness leads her to a witch, and she asks for a spell that will change her destiny. She thinks changing her mother will produce that result, but horrifyingly, the consequence is that her mother is changed into a bear, the one creature Merida's father, King Fergus, is determined to kill in revenge for his lost leg. Well, I won't spoil the whole movie!

While Brave is not the best Pixar movie ever (that would be the Toy Story trilogy), it is outstanding for its focus on the healing of a mother-daughter relationship, where each learns to bend and honor the other's uniqueness and gifts. There is no betrothal to a prince, no adolescent kissing, no wicked stepmother jealous of the princess' youth and beauty; and miraculously, neither parent has died, and they are happily married! Queen Elinor even has a wonderful streak of grey (I mean silver) in her hair. Yes, I want to be Queen Elinor more than I want to be the young princess! When Elinor walks through a room, the dignity of her presence brings all male misbehavior to a halt. There was truly a time when men did not swear, get drunk, make dirty jokes, or brawl in the presence of women. They stood up when a woman entered the room. They removed their hats. They showed some respect. But we threw that all away for some twisted "equality" in which women get to act like men, a bizarre world where being a "lady" is obscene. But that's another topic for another time! Still, Elinor reminds us of something precious that has been lost, something of real value.

 Queen Elinor

Brave is solidly a very good family movie. I give it four stars. Younger children might be afraid of the scary bear (also a product of the witch's spell to change someone's destiny) but otherwise there is very little rude humor and nothing objectionable in my opinion. It is a film worth seeing and even worth contemplating a little deeper. What can we mothers learn from our daughters, not just what can they learn from us.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Self-Taught Swimming

Last evening Beezy, age 8, went down the big water slide at our public pool by herself for the first time! This is the first summer that she has been tall enough, but even though she met the height requirement this year, she still had to conquer her fear. I did not push. I have noticed that her progress in swimming has been very self-directed and self-initiated and find this to be fascinating. Is it a result of being homeschooled, perhaps? Beezy has many friends that she sees at the pool, but she is not really interested in socializing with them there. She has her own agenda. As long as she is polite, I allow her to do her own thing. She seems to be on an internal mission, and I respect that.

On her own she decided to learn to swim underwater, without plugging her nose. She figured out the breathing by herself. She is very into goggles, wanting to be able to look at things under the water. She can swim across a full length of one part of the pool. While she still wants a parent close by, she is not very keen on receiving advice. In fact, she will go under water so as not to hear it! But if I see something that she needs to do differently in order to achieve her own goal, I gently insist (that is to say, I persist) in sharing my helpful hints. For example, she was teaching herself to swim on her back, but I noticed her bottom was too low in the water, so I demonstrated a better posture and recommended kicking without bending the legs so much. She did follow my advice and improved her technique. It is not easy to keep from being invasive while at the same time providing a bit of helpful teaching! Then again, perhaps she would have figured it out eventually if left to her own devices...

We did pay for private swimming lessons a couple of summers ago, and then last year just built on that ourselves, in an informal manner. So I was surprised at how much she has progressed this year with hardly any adult interference. And we solved the big slide problem together last night. While I could not be standing right at the bottom of the slide, I could go up with her to alleviate her minor fear of heights (one I share, so it helped me too to have a hand to hold!). Then I went down first, so I could be right by the steps in case she needed me when she got to the bottom. Which she didn't. After four trips up and down I was done, and so I found another child, a couple of years older, to escort her. In the process of this new achievement, she also made a friend! The point to consider is that while I encouraged her in trying the slide, once she had expressed the interest, I left it up to her. I only provided a plan for conquering the fear. She did it when she was ready, and she consequently made an independent decision in her own education and interests, and she had a blast!

This is how kids can be. They still want their parents close by, but they want to figure some things out on their own. They don't want to be spoon fed. We let our babies make a mess while they learn to eat, don't we? It's the process, not the product, that matters in the end.