And Grace Will Lead Us Home

On Thursday I watched the funeral for my friend Lynn Bruce, and today I watched her graveside service. On this day 17 years ago, also a Saturday, we had the graveside service and burial of our daughter Virginia Grace, who had died the day before at 3 weeks old, almost to the very minute.

AmblesideOnline and our daughter Grace, they keep being connected. Last year on the 3rd of February, her 16th birthday, I wrote about how Grace brought me to AO and Wendi Capehart, who had died 2 days before. And now Lynn and Grace are ‘laid to rest’ on the very same day.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come:
’tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

James at not-yet-3 and his daddy helping to bury his baby sister Grace
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Remembrance and Liturgy ….and (Surprise!) Refinement

Every year I remember our daughter Virginia Grace Pelham (February 3 ~ 24, 2006) on her birthday through social media posts and sometimes a blog post here, and most every year I think that it should be the last time that I publicly do so. Aren’t people tired of it? Isn’t it time to put this memory to rest? But then I will have people thanking me for allowing them to remember Grace with me, and others that feel permission to tell me about their own losses. And I still feel the determination to make Grace’s life matter. Last year I wrote this, which records a major way that Grace made a difference in the life of her family.

During the past year I had a new epiphany (or as some of my friends would say — apostrophe) about why it is okay, and that I actually should remember Grace privately as well as publicly on her birthday. And that comes thanks to the influence of my friends Cindy and Kelly, both of whom I’ve known for more than this past year, but whose recurring talk of remembering and liturgy came together for me in a way that “gave me permission” to continue doing as I had been doing.

I was not raised in a religious tradition, nor am I a part of one now, that practiced any kind of “church year”. Our one ritual was weekly communion or Lord’s Supper, remembering the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. We did no special Easter service, for every Sunday was a memorial of Easter Sunday. (Although, I do remember getting new dresses for Easter Sunday when I was a little girl.) We definitely didn’t have a special Christmas service. No tree or any other holiday decorations in our church building. And definitely no icons! From my friend Kelly I have been learning about the church calendar, as well as other ways of “going with the flow” of the calendar year, including times of needed rest. Kelly also didn’t grow up in a liturgical church but came to this as an adult and has taken a deep dive into the meaning and value of it all. Interestingly (to me, at least), the topic of the church calendar isn’t what Kelly came at me first with, but it came out as I sat in on her 3 mini-classes on medieval cosmology, as well as her year long class on The Faerie Queene. This year I am in the House of Humane Letters Fellowship with her, and some of us non-liturgical fellows had become so intrigued by the things she had said here and there over the past few years that we bought our own copies of The Book of Common Prayer and had Kelly explain some of it to us at our retreat last summer.

Cindy Rollins is the author of the wildly popular memoir Mere Motherhood, to which she added the subtitle Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, & My Journey Toward Sanctification. And concerning ‘Morning Time’, Cindy has also written Morning Time: A Liturgy of Love. Although I wrote this review [well, it turns out my review, which must have been really good for all the Likes I kept getting on it, has disappeared from Goodreads, hmmmm….] of Mere Motherhood when it was first published in 2016, I spent the next few years puzzling out the sanctification part of the subtitle. That’s not a word I used (or apparently understood) much in my growing up years. Sanctification to me happened because Jesus died on the cross, and I ‘got saved’ at age 11 when I was ‘buried with him in baptism and raised to a new life’. To talk of a continual sanctification was just not in my vocabulary, nor I assume in that of my family and other church members. (But I’ve often found I’ve been wrong about assumptions about my family and other church members.) And then there was that word liturgy in the Morning Time book. I’d been hearing Cindy use it for several years —- I’ve read Cindy since around 2005 and have been in her classes and discussion groups for around a decade — but still wasn’t quite at home with the term. Had I been following a liturgy all those years with my son and our morning times (or whatever time of day it happened)? Me liturgical?!

So what does this all have to do with my annual remembrance of a daughter who was with us only 21 days? I realize that Grace was no saint, and she doesn’t make it on the church calendar, but through learning how important it is to remember (Cindy loves to remind us that Stratford Caldecott preferred to call the first part of the Trivium remembering) and how the year, and obvious changes in seasons, gives us things to remember annually in their time, it seems that with Grace’s birth and death occurring in February, that is the time to remember her, to go back and revisit that February of 2006, and to rejoice and to mourn. It is not wrong or bad for me to remember her, the joy and the sorrow.

And to be refined. Sometimes that indeed feels like fire to me. Is this some of that sanctification that Cindy talks about? Let me tell you about this year.

I started this post on her birthday two days ago. I knew what I wanted to write about and typed in the title Remembrance and Liturgy, and then put the writing task aside. As the Facebook memories were coming in the few days before, I was already struggling with my feelings of guilt and hurt that I hadn’t been good enough to have a daughter. Although the counselor at Vanderbilt was amazed at how Jack and I were dealing with this news that our daughter would not live long — we did not know about her genetic disorder, Trisomy 18, until her birth — in the aftermath, as I watched other mothers with daughters, other little girls getting to grow up, my demons of insecurity haunted me with the notion that I had been punished because I was unworthy to raise a daughter. You know it’s crazy talk, but it is was it is. Well, it is what I is. It’s not the only thing I feel unworthy or punished for.

Okay, I don’t want to bore you with the details of other insecurities and disappointments of my daily life, and don’t really want to give time to them in writing, but just know feeling punished by being daughter-less was just another in a pile of feeling overwhelmed and judged in life. And then a major (to me) financial blow came on her birthday, and I crashed. Saturday morning, feeling justified that I’d had a night to sleep it off, I began cancelling and removing myself from various accounts, subscriptions, groups, and commitments. I felt I’d been foolish that I could give my time, money, and attention to the Fellowship. Who the smell am I to think I could aspire to such higher and beautiful learning? I’m certainly not worthy, and I can’t keep up with those younger (the other 14 are all younger) than me with their fast reading, thinking, and making connections. And here I am surrounded by all my books I’ve acquired over these past couple of years — all my Fryes, Lewises, and Tolkiens. They’d have to go. I couldn’t have them staring me in the face, showing my failure. So, yeah, Saturday was just about as groovy as Friday. Maybe more so.

And then Jack talked to me. And then Kelly. And some of my fellow Fellows. And maybe I started to see a little hope.

Oh, and Jack wrote about me. Here’s what he told our Facebook world yesterday:

My wife, Kay Pelham, has got a dozen or two really great friends, and they have got her back when times get tough!

Kay believes in some really important things that are not commonly understood, and she’s working really hard to learn more and more on her own time so that she can be an effective teacher (and just as much, so that she can be a better human!). She’s in a literary fellowship learning from some masters about the importance of “story” and “image” and such, and about how conventional teaching methods leave so many of the student’s needs unmet.

But it’s a lonely life because so few are in search of such excellence as they educate their kids. In a world of worksheets and unit studies, there is so much more to be had, yet there are so few in search of it! And yet, she keeps plugging away anyway, for the love of the game, even though it won’t be earning her any money anytime soon—and even then, it won’t be much.

But one day soon, she’ll be teaching literature, and her students (and even some of their parents) will be in her classes, and can start to benefit from what all she’s been learning (really since she began to study in preparation for homeschooling James, who is 19 years old now.)

It’s going to pay off. It will be so obviously “worth it” later, even if it seems bleak now. And when people wonder how she succeeded, she won’t be able to explain just what a big part of the recipe it was for all those years that she LOVED words and truth and wisdom and story and image. That’s mostly what it is, along with the practicals about how to teach it in the best possible way—how to stay out of the way of the student’s mind, to let it do its natural work.

She’s a champ, and I can’t wait until her first class starts! She raised a Class-A son in this literary/educational philosophy, and soon, she’ll be ready to help some other folks raise their kids in good literature, too.

Did you see that lonely life part? Yeah, that’s part of my pile of doo doo, and what I mean when I mention disappointment. It is so frustrating to me to be learning so many beautiful things and to find that so very, very few care. What I long to share with my world, maybe two or three want.

But Kelly helped me with that some yesterday. Kelly is good people. Her life is a reflection of the choices she has made about her life, in spite of how much of the world says we ought to live. Thank you God for Kelly. I really mean that. Now I just need money to get to spend another year learning from her. And about so much more than books.

So, yes, it felt like fire. And I’m still feeling the burn. But there’s a little shine of gold and silver here and there. And, now, here on a Sunday, two days after my crash, I added to the title of this post and told more than I planned two days ago.

On the Death of the Beloved by John O’Donohue

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm on night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of color.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the alter of the heart,
Your mind always sparkled
With the wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.
We look toward each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our souls gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Besides us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

That poem came up in my Facebook memories on Grace’s birthday. Cindy Rollins has shared it last year in memory of our friend Wendi Capehart. As I read those words — ‘may you continue to inspire us to enter each day with a generous heart. To serve the call of courage and love until we see your beautiful face again…’ — I knew I had to pull through this. For Wendi and Grace. For my Creator and my Savior.

count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
~James 1:2

Oh, boy, Joy? We’ll work on that.

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Goodreads Review: How the Irish Saved Civilization

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe  by Thomas Cahill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent telling and explanation of the Celts pagan background and how it influenced their flavor of Christianity. Their love of story contributes much to their collecting, copying, and preserving of many documents. As often happens, the diaspora of monks through banishment spreads their philosophy throughout the continent. From the time of the Viking invasions of the late 8th century to the great famines of the 19th century, the scholarly civilization that the Irish had built up has been constantly under attack, but signs of what they once were, and how hard they worked to preserve that can still be found to this day in relics found in digs.

The Irish conversion to Christianity is noted as being the first that did not bring Roman culture with it. The Irish blended their love of story and images with the gospel story of the Bible. They were not a culture that relied on well thought out arguments to persuade but on stories. The Greek influence on Roman thought was gone. “The intellectual disciplines of distinction, definition, and dialectic that had once been the glory of men like Augustine were unobtainable by readers of the Dark Ages, whose apprehension of the world was simple and immediate, framed by myth and magic. A man no longer subordinated one thought to another with mathematical precision; instead, he apprehended similarities and balances, types and paradigms, parallels and symbols. It was a world not of thoughts, but of images.” [my wish is that this would appear as “Dark Ages”]

There is so much similarity to these ideas of myth, symbols, and images with the mind of people of the Middle Ages that though from the Vikings on various invaders and oppressors were trying to destroy this Irish way of seeing and learning, it is obvious it survived to influence those of medieval times. There is a big push in some educational circles to be “classical”, to return to the forms of the Greeks and Romans. As for me and my house, I’m going with the story-telling Celts and image-seeing Medievals.

How can you not want to be like a people that loved story and then came to love the greatest story of them all?

“In 1225, almost four centuries after it was written, Pope Honorius III order all copies of ‘De Divisione Naturae’ to be burned. Some, obviously escaped the bonfire.

“But in the age of John Scotus Eriugena, Christian churchmen did not burn books. Only barbarians did that.”

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2023 Word of the Year: FRIEND

This makes me mightily nervous, but there it is. It is an idea I’ve had on my heart for years and years, and after pondering for the last few days about a word for the year, and going back and forth on whether I would choose a word, whether or not it really mattered, or was useful at all, this word came to mind as I was cleaning the kitchen and thinking about…Friends. I don’t choose it because I love it — not at the moment — but because it is important.

My whole life I’ve kept people at arm’s length. This tendency of mine would obviously come from several sources, some of which would be my upbringing/family culture, my introversion (including active interior life, reading and thinking, and contentment with that, energized by alone time, energy sapped in large crowds), and in later life a lack of trust because of all those years of disappointment in people.

Many years ago, while living in NYC as a 20/30 something, a “friend” (in quotes because of what I’m about to tell you) and roommate told me that … don’t remember exactly how she said it but here’s the impression of her words I’ve carried through these decades since … she didn’t think people viewed their friendship with me the way that I viewed our friendship. In other words, I considered us good friends, where they didn’t. I felt close to them; they did not feel the same closeness. I do not put friend in quotes because she was not a friend to me; indeed, her caring enough to tell me that (maybe it was out of frustration?) showed her to be my friend. But did she feel I was a friend to her?

So those words have haunted me through the years as I’ve gone through these next phases of my life — marriage, motherhood, moving across the country, new sets of friends acquired because of my career as a homeschool mom — and I wonder even as I have warm feelings about my friends and thinking ‘we’re good’, are they not feeling the love? Are my self-sufficiency and numbness from being burned keeping me from being a true friend? How much do we get to account for our personality-type and neurodiversity, anyways?

Now let’s throw in social media that came to be a part of my life since my…. let’s see, I’ve been on Facebook since 2009 (and what a difference it is from previous online discussion forums!) so since I was in my late 40s. What a blessing and ‘curse’ it has been. I have ‘friends’ from all over the world. I count them better friends than I had prior to the online life. Like-minded friends. Not always same age peers, since much of my life, marriage and motherhood, came later in life than most, but more like-minded than I’d ever had before. I suppose when the whole planet is the pool from which to find like-minded friends, you’re going to do pretty well. But the ‘curse’ — the dependency on it to air my frustrations, my joys and sorrows, and that need to get a response that you don’t realize is there until you get little to no response to whatever joy or sorrow that you have posted about.

I recently started reading You Are Not Your Own by Alan Noble — first, because Cindy Rollins has been reading and raving about it, and then because other friends (my awesome online friends) are excited about reading it and discussing it….online. In this book Noble strongly addresses our modern world and much disordered affections. He talks about this inner focus of the self and finding your own meaning and needing the world to hear and accept your own meaning, all the while they’re doing the same thing, having the same needs.

“Everyone is on their own private journey of self-discovery and self-expression, so that at times, modern life feels like billions of people in the same room shouting their own names so that everyone else knows they exist and who they are — which is a fairly accurate description of social media. To be recognized is to draw the gaze and the attention of others. To be affirmed is to draw their positive gaze. But if we are all responsible for creating and expressing our own identities, then everyone is in competition with everyone else for our limited attention, and no one is secure enough in their own identity to ground us with their approval. How can we cope with such fierce competition?” (p. 25,26)

As I read his words, I tell myself that while I am not like all these modern people on their ‘journey of self-discovery and self-expression’, and when I put myself out there it is because I have something to say, something that I sincerely want to share with my world, I still feel a strong sense of rejection when I do not ‘draw the gaze’ in any way whether positive or negative. (But, of course, I’d prefer the positive.) So where is this coming from when I didn’t put it out there to be personally noticed? I know that a great deal of it is the hurt that the ideas have been rejected or not even acknowledged, but that pang that I feel for myself is just really troubling, and I know it affects my willingness to put anything out there, including these very words that I am typing.

So what does this have to do with being a Friend? It’s really just a piece of the puzzle that makes me want to stay safe at home, in my own place and in my own thoughts. Who am I thinking of when I say Friends? I am thinking of both those local, as well as those online. I wonder how much it will help if I realize that they need me just as much as I need them — their thoughts and encouragement. How much will it help if I keep putting myself out there — with my thoughts and questions and offers to help — regardless of the silence in response? How much will it help if I own up to them my fears and insecurities?

My younger brother was a good friend to me and many others. He kept his college friends until the day he died at age 31. He stayed in communication (even before the internet!) and visited them often. After his death, one of those friends sent these lyrics to us which we laid on his grave —

I hope the day will be a lighter highway
For friends are found on every road
Can you ever think of any better way
For the lost and weary travellers to go

Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there then everything’s all right

It seems to me a crime that we should age
These fragile times should never slip us by
A time you never can or shall erase
As friends together watch their childhood fly

Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there then everything’s all right

~ Bernie Taupin/Elton John

Nearly twenty-five since his death, and my brother keeps teaching me. I want to be a friend like James was.

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Review of “Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in The Age of Enlightenment”

Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book begins with the event referenced in the title, an invitation from Frederick the Great (1712-1786) to old Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) to visit him with, on Frederick’s part, mostly the purpose of ridiculing the old man and his old notions of art. One of Bach’s several sons, Carl, was currently in Frederick’s employ. The event happened in 1747, three years before Bach’s death.

Then we are taken through a walk through each man’s life, with alternating chapters focusing on each man’s story. Much of the background helps us to see how they became the men that they did, some of it simply being the time in which they were born. Frederick is very much a man of the seemingly godless Enlightenment, loving the French ways more than Prussian, much to his own father’s consternation. Evidence is that Frederick was regularly emotionally and physically abused by his father. JS Bach, born 27 years before Frederick, was unashamed to acknowledge and glorify God in all his works. Bach believed in an ordered universe created by God, as well as order and rules in music coming from this ordered universe. One of the forms he often used was ‘Canon’, which has an original meaning of Law. All of this Frederick mocked, finding more appeal in the ‘galant’ style, which mostly had the purpose of entertaining and ‘tickling the fancies’ of the audience. Interestingly, Bach was such a genius that he not only reached into the past, but developed so many ideas that went past the life (and empire) of Frederick. Today who is Frederick ‘the Great’? but JS Bach we all know.

“After the war [WWII, in which Hitler had greatly used the image of Frederick] Frederick’s corpse was sent into the safekeeping of the last of the Hohenzollerns, who had withdrawn to a castle in one of the family’s former principalities. There he rested for half a century, until the post-reunification summer of 1991, when Chancellor Helmut Kohl created something of a stir by attending Frederick’s reinterment where he had always wished to be buried, next to his dogs at Sanssouci…..A poll conducted during the controversy over his reburial found that most Germans could not say when Frederick the Great had lived or what he had ever done.” (p. 268)

“The beauty of music, of course, what sets it apart from virtually every other human endeavor, is that it does not need the language of ideas; it requires no explanation and offers none, as much as it may say. Perhaps that is why music coming from a world where the invisible was palpable, where great cosmic forces played their part everywhere and every day, could so deeply move audiences so far from Bach’s time. Whether in the thrilling exuberance of his polyphonic Credo or in the single voice of an unaccompanied cello, in works extravagantly expressive and as intimate as a whisper, Bach’s music makes no argument that the world is more than a ticking clock, yet leaves no doubt of it.” (p. 273)

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On Joy, Heritage, and Community: Folk Songs

Folk songs are an important aspect of a Charlotte Mason education, but often, like music in any school, it gets pushed aside, considered just extra stuff, or forgotten altogether. Wendi Capehart, a member of the AmblesideOnline Advisory, who passed away earlier this year, was a great champion.of learning and singing folk songs from all over the world. Her demonstration of the joy of singing these old songs had a great impact on many who were at the AO Camp Meeting in 2019.

Folk songs come under a lot of attack these days with their seemingly non-PC words and sentiments. Recently a public school music teacher told me about the list that came from the state teachers’ association that told of the songs they were to pull from the curriculum. I’ve seen piano teachers ‘canceling’ whole method series because of a few songs in them. Although there may be some cause, I think they’ve gone too far, and there is a great loss to our children and our culture.

Folk songs bring so much joy when singing alone or with others, small group or large. They lift our spirits. Even nonsense lyrics. Especially nonsense lyrics. I wish you could have been in that room of 400 as Wendi taught The Happy Wanderer in 2019. The room buzzed with delight as we sang Val-deri,Val-dera, Val-deri, Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha . Three years later that song was still ringing in the heart of someone in that audience that day as she climbed some mountains in Switzerland with her daughter.

Folk songs connect us to the past and how people lived and tell us of their joys and sorrows. They connect us to past generations of our own families. In my family and my husband’s family there are many songs they are still sung that can be traced back to great-great-grandparents. They connect you with the past in general, and specifically with your own heritage.

Folk songs bring people together. One of the saddest things about our current culture is the loss of coming together to sing. For fun. For joy. For community.

But sometimes you find out it isn’t all lost. Sometimes you find out that out there in the regular world family is still sharing songs. And then people meet who know the same old song, and spirits are lifted. Here’s a story I heard today from a mother who uses AmblesideOnline with its selections of Folk Songs. I share it with you with her permission:

After running errands, I stopped at a local coffee shop on the way home. The kids had been really helpful and well behaved, so I decided to treat them with peppermint hot cocoas.

The young lady at the window flatly told me the total, and I handed over my debit card. As she reached to take it, I noticed the tattoo on her arm.

” Is that a fox?” I asked.

Instantly a smile lifted the corners of her mouth, and a soft look came into her sad eyes. “Yeah. I just got it to honor my grandpa after he died. He used to sing me this song about a fox who went out on a chilly night. He would sing it all the time. We were really close.”

“I know that song!” My son exclaimed from the backseat. Then the kids all began to sing. The girl joined in on the first “Town-oh”, singing loudly. Her co-workers paused what they were doing and watched.

When the song ended, the car behind us clapped.

The girl with the fox tattoo went back to work, but she was smiling now. Who would have thought that this folk song would be such a blessing! You never know how this broad education is going to help make new connections!

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Trained to See

We all have need to be trained to see, and to have our eyes opened before we can take in the joy that is meant for us in this beautiful life.

Charlotte Mason, “Ourselves”, p. 43

I spend these days on the other end of homeschooling my son seeing the ‘consequences’ of what and how he was taught, and how we lived our daily lives. In spite of what I see as my failings, and as Charlotte Mason and AmblesideOnline Advisory member Donna-Jean Breckenridge often remind me —‘however imperfectly’, I daily find myself in the presence of a young adult who is observant and detail-oriented — someone who cares.

There are several aspects to a Charlotte Mason education that train a child to give attention and ‘to see’. After one reading they tell back what they ‘saw’ in the reading. That ‘one reading’ is key to developing the habit of attention. They spend time looking at a painting and tell what they saw. They listen to music and tell what they heard. They take nature walks and tell what they see through oral narration and recording in a nature notebook.

Most likely my most stellar moments as a teacher was teaching my son to read and write. We paid a lot of attention — thankfully, it is something we both enjoy — to phonics and grammar rules. We also practiced good ‘penmanship’ with copywork. Charlotte Mason advises to only do as much as they can do ‘perfectly’. This is what my son was writing at seven years old.

An unfinished portion from (I think) “Little House in the Big Woods”

My son’s writing today at age 19 is still very neat and precise. These days he spends more time with numbers than with letters (unless they are symbols in formulas). He is a higher math and programming fanatic. When he’s away from his computer you will find him writing on whatever white board, paper, or restaurant napkin is available to puzzle out whatever is currently on his mind. And he doesn’t hold back from wanting to invite whoever is nearby into his puzzling, which makes it good that his writing is extremely clear because at least you can understand that.

He remains interested in phonics and buys himself things like this for fun.

Explaining and taking questions from his Dad about his new toy

One of my not so good moments as a Charlotte Mason educator was Nature Study. We were not consistent, have several nature notebooks with just a few pages filled in, and probably spent way too much time inside. And yet I find myself watching my adult son outside at friends’ homes pointing out and wondering at the lichen on a tree or birds building nests in clothes-line poles. We walk around a local pond together for exercise, and he spends time asking me questions about what I see in the water and plants, and teaching me about what I am seeing. Somehow, in spite of what I see as my failings, he observes and cares about the natural world. And I am grateful.

It might be that we are enjoying ‘nature walks’ more as adults than we did in school. Better that than the other way around, I think. So grateful for my walking and seeing buddy.
James at 7. Experimenting and wondering over the physics of nature.

We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking––the strain would be too great––but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy. The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

~ Charlotte Mason, “School Education”, p. 170, 171 [emphasis mine]

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To Edna Joyce Ritter Davis on her 90th Birthday

Ethereal is how you must have looked
with that snow-white hair as you cried
Daddy, please don’t leave me. And your young
widowed father took you by the hand
Never to send you off to live with another family again.
And so from three years old you became the woman
of the house to your daddy and 3 brothers.

Just seventeen years old, you left your
father’s house to devote your life to a husband much
Older than you. You left your oh-so-familiar homeland
to go up north to the land of
Yankees. A Tennessee farm girl in a factory-filled,
melting pot of cultures. You made your
Confession of faith soon after. Your own personal
decision to follow Jesus forever.
Even in the darkest days.

Rita came first. Your feisty first born. No wonder
you waited nearly five years for the next.
Intelligence, quite high, marked your second.
Michael Lynn, the ‘rare’ name that you chose.
Too soon, if your husband’s claimed master
plan is true, came your third. Karen the witty.
Then you’d line up the 3 after church,
‘Eeny meeny miney, and there ain’t going to be no Mo’.
Except there was. Nearly five years later,
according to his plan, here was Kay. The wanderer.
Rarin’ to go describes the final one, five years later.
James Lester. Full of life. Gone too soon.

Davis is the name, he’d say. You took his name 72
years ago. Until his death you did not part.
And now you are surrounded by children, grands,
and greats because of him. Back on the
Very land from which he took you all those years ago.
It has been quite a life. The motherless child became an amazing mother, fighting for the
Souls of her children. The only thing that matters.

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On “Education is an Atmosphere”

I’ve been taking a Saturday morning class with Karen Glass on In Vital Harmony, a book about Charlotte Mason and her 20 Principles, and which Karen authored. I really need to blog through each chapter of In Vital Harmony, but for now I want to share about the principle in this post title, as well as how good it is to revisit these ideas even after having studied Charlotte Mason for 17 years.

The subtitle of In Vital Harmony is “Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education”, and Karen explains in Chapter 1 that what is meant by Principle is natural law — ideas, like gravity, that just are by nature, unchangeable and out of our control. Of the 20 Principles, Karen has concluded that two of them, the first and the twelfth, Children are born persons and Education is the science of relations, are the chief principles from which the other 18 ‘flow’.

Through the first four weeks of our six week class with Karen we have covered those chief principles and 11 others, most of which are telling you that this is just the ways things are and work, as well as practices we ought not to do. In today’s class we discussed some principles which Charlotte Mason called ‘educational instruments’ — things we have at our disposal, things we can use and do.

We are limited to three educational instruments—the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.

Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. xxix

Of those three ‘instruments’ — atmosphere, discipline, living ideas — it became clearer to me this morning, as Karen was describing what was meant by atmosphere, that it is strongly in the category of how things are, or natural law. I have known for many years that Mason did not mean that we should create some artificial classroom to appeal to children, full of plastic, flashy items; that we should not go out of our way to carefully construct some ‘child-friendly’, ‘educational’ setting; but that it is their natural environment, the one in which they (and we) daily live. I knew it wasn’t about the material things, but more about the ‘mood’, the ‘feel’ — you come up with some words. I really think that Mason was telling us, ‘Suck it up, buttercup, the kids are going to Do as you Do, and not just as you Say.’ It’s a fact. It’s a natural law. It’s just how things work for us humans. The Atmosphere of your home and your classroom will educate your children and students. It may not be in your carefully constructed lesson plan, but it will happen. Atmosphere is so closely related to the science of relations. Children (persons) are making connections everywhere. Character is forming from everything around them. Loves, affections, carings (yes, my word, and I like it!) are being ordered from their natural environment.

Our motto is,––’Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.’ When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s’ level.

It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us.

The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.

Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education, p. 94, 96,97

So how’s your Atmosphere doing? Let’s be honest. For real!

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The Next Chapter of My Life and How You Can Help

After four decades of teaching piano and two decades as mom and home education facilitator, an exceptional opportunity has come my way! I have been offered a place in the House of Humane Letters Fellowship Program. In short, this new fellowship program will train me in literary analysis and teaching literature.

I’ve been taking year-long classes, summer classes, conferences, and various webinars with House of Human Letters (HHL) for the past few years. As I related in my recent interview with The Literary Life Podcast, my interest in story has been life-long, but these recent years have brought a renewal—a fuller understanding and a wish to take a “deeper dive”, especially into reading metaphorically and identifying the images and motifs that go back to the Beginning….literally. My two teachers in the Fellowship, Angelina Stanford and Kelly Cumbee, are the brightest and humblest living literary teachers that I know, and I am honored, humbled, and thrilled beyond measure to be learning from them.

What it entails.

The one-year Fellowship will begin with an in-person retreat in North Carolina, in which we get to know each other better and begin our readings in literary analysis. After that we will have weekly online instruction time where we will discuss our reading assignments, receive instruction on analysis and teaching, and have opportunity to demonstrate teaching. Outside of the weekly meetings, I will be spending time reading the assigned books and preparing any lessons that I have been assigned. I anticipate there will also be invaluable daily chatting online with my fellow students about the material. One of the goals and blessings of the Fellowship is the camaraderie that is already there with some of my fellow students and will continue to grow as we learn to read and to teach together.

How you can help.

  • General encouragement, including listening to me go on and on about the things that I am learning. Please read and comment on my social media and blog posts about what I am reading and learning along the way.
  • Enrollment. If you are local and have young children, please enroll your children in my Story, Rhyme & Song class, currently slated for Fall 2022. Tuition from this can help offset my expenses, and it encourages my soul to share story and song with your children.
  • Financial Support. Perhaps you’re in a spot to donate. I’ve been able to pay for my own HHL classes through passive income ideas these past two years, but the tuition for the Fellowship will be three times as much as those classes! It’s a higher level of learning and the class size is much smaller, allowing for more individual training so as to prepare the participants to be professional literature teachers. Along with the tuition (due by the end of July), I will have expenses for a flight and housing for our in-person retreat in North Carolina to kick off the year at the end of July. Once all this is paid, I will have no further direct expenses except for the necessary books (that I don’t happen to own already). I will, however, lose some prime time hours in my piano studio, due to class and study time, and will need to recover that lost income somehow to keep the bills paid.

If you would like to help me with a donation of any amount, you may send via PayPal, using the email If you would like to donate in another form than PayPal, please contact me to arrange that.

Update 6/9/22: A very generous donation has been made toward my tuition by a friend. I have booked my flight to our in-person retreat at the end of July, the cost of which was covered by the credit from my covid-canceled 2020 trip to Ambleside, England. I still need to pay for my housing and other expenses while in NC (5 nights) and the remaining balance ($1,000) of my tuition by the end of July.

Update 7/21/22: All of my tuition has been covered by donations from family and friends, along with a balance towards my housing and other expenses while at the retreat. If you would like to contribute to help with my remaining expenses, I will gladly accept those.

What’s in it for you?

Well, first, there’s the obvious: In the Fellowship, I’ll become an excellent analyst and teacher of literature, so I’ll be able to help others enrich their lives with literature. But really, the point of it all—the why that drives me, and that will have its chance to inspire my students—is this:

As we learn more about story, we become better humans. (This is why House of Humane Letters chose that name.) The payoff for my friends who donate, then, is that this will make me a better friend. For my fellow choir members, I will become a better part of the team and a better singer. For my piano students, I will become a better teacher.

There is enhancement to all areas of my life when I gain new understanding about the treasures of story, metaphor, and imagery that exist in our Creator’s world. I hope to become a regular teacher of story and of how to read literature, and perhaps some of you or your children will be my students. I hope to inspire people to love and understand story more. I truly believe, as Angelina says, that “stories will save the world” , and as Stratford Caldecott says, “To be enchanted by story is to have a deeper insight into reality.”

Please join me in this enchantment.

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