Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reading and keeping update 4/22/17

Greetings, friends - Easter joy to you all!

After taking a break to observe Holy Week and the Easter Octave, I am happy to share a reading update.

Books recently finished

First, can I say that I delight in the cover of this book? Truly, it is charming. I know we can't judge a book by its cover but this one has a good story and a good cover! Callie Vee is a likeable heroine struggling to find her place in the family, and in the world. She is drawn to science, nature, and exploration, not the things her mother has in mind for her. Callie wants nothing to do with domestic pleasures or debutante balls; she just wants to spend time with her science-loving grandfather and feeding her new interest in nature.

I enjoyed her interactions with her many brothers, both the serene and the typical sibling squabbles. I could sympathize with her wish that her oldest brother (of whom she has always been a favorite) steer clear of girls who threaten to take him away. Her reaction to her brothers' crushes on her best friend seems about right for a sister to have. My only complaint is the author's use of a crass word for a cat's bodily function (such a pet peeve of mine - you'd not find this in a classic work) but it's not a deal-breaker for me. I found great appeal in all of the nature details and got some good ideas for my own nature journal.

Books currently reading

Oh my goodness. I have been hearing about this book for a long time as a must-read. So, I did what any rational book lover would do and bought it for "someday." That "someday" arrived on Friday night and what an immediate pleasure! I am not someone who laughs easily, though I do enjoy many things. I just laughed right out loud at this:

Grandmam had told me exactly what to do if ever anybody [boys] got fresh with me. I was to remove their hand firmly from wherever they had put it, look them directly in the eye, and say, "Are you ready to try that in front of Grandmam?"
p. 15
What a wonderful grandmother!

I also enjoyed this from the opening chapter (not funny, but poignant):

This is the story of my life, that while I lived it weighed upon me and pressed against me and filled all of my senses to overflowing and now is like a dream dreamed. So close to the end now, what do I look forward to? "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
p. 5

I continue to savor this book like some would savor a good meal...slowly. (Unfortunately, I seldom am able to eat slowly when I like something!) Lots of tabs for later commonplacing, and just reading a few pages at a time. These are two passages I would like to take to heart:

There are good and evil tendencies in body and mind, heart and soul; and the hope set before us is that we can foster the good so as to attenuate the evil; that is, on condition that we put Education in her true place as the handmaid of Religion.
p. 46

However disappointing, even forbidding, the failings of a child, we may be quite sure that in every case the opposite tendency is there and we must bring the wit to give it play.
p. 47

Every page, every paragraph of this book convinces me evermore of its value. One life changing idea he shared was looking at the Biblical story of Creation in light of Jesus Christ, what scholars call typology. Now I understand typology and have seen it at play in many OT books, but have never thought of it in regard to Creation. Cardinal Ratzinger talked about how the Gospel of John begins with: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Yes, I am familiar with this beautiful reading. But to then compare that to the beginning of the Book of Genesis: In the beginning..., I had never made that connection. So much to think on here. Also:

Out of that "Let there be" it was not some haphazard stew that was concocted. The more we know of the universe the more profoundly we are struck by a Reason whose ways we can only contemplate with astonishment. In pursuing them we can see anew that creating Intelligence to whom we owe our own reason. Albert Einstein once said that in the laws of nature "there is revealed such a superior Reason that everything significant which has arisen out of human thought and arrangement is, in comparison with it, the merest empty reflection."
p. 23

The universe is not the product of darkness and unreason. It comes from intelligence, freedom, and from the beauty that is identical with love. Seeing this gives us the courage to keep on living, and it empowers us, comforted thereby, to take upon ourselves the adventure of life.
p. 25

I attempted to read the first essay in this book, and was completely lost about a quarter of the way into it. I was discouraged and put the book aside. However, I try not give up on books easily, and attempted it again another night when I was not quite so tired - I am convinced fatigue was part of my difficulty. The second time around was much better and even enjoyable.

The author discussed patterns in literature, imploring readers to be open to the style employed by a particular author to tell his story even if different from what he might be used to reading. (This 1929 book is a series of essays from the Saturday Review of Literature.) It was fun to read the specific book titles she discussed, including some familiar to me: Willa Cather's books as well as James Joyce's Ulysses, a book I read in high school (but do not remember!). She also includes a list of recommended reading at the end. As an aside, I am reluctant to tab pages in this book as there is no sheen or any protective covering to the paper; I am pretty sure any adhesive would damage the pages. I need to figure out how to mark passages in a different way.

This is a very old history book that has been reprinted. I first heard about it when I was looking into using RC History for our history studies. I found an original copy and we read a bit from it, but decided to go in another direction. As I picked the book up again a couple weeks ago, the first chapter was a bit tough to read, simply because it holds onto beliefs about the origin of man commonly held at the beginning of the 20th century. They only knew what they knew, and I don't fault Ms. O'Neill for reporting what was true at the time she wrote the book. However, reading through Cardinal Ratzinger's book (discussed above) means I don't need to spend time on this part of the book. I am planning to resume reading this week, but moving past her introductory chapter.

I was a bit daunted by the length of this audiobook, nearly 40 hours long! How would I ever finish it? Most of my listening has been on the treadmill, but the story is so compelling that I find myself fitting in other time to listen. As mentioned before, Richard Armitage is an excellent narrator and the story is one to get lost in. Charles Dickens is quickly become a favorite author. I have less than 8 hours to go to finish - perhaps this week!

Books on the horizon

I'm excited to add this category to my reading and keeping updates. Here I'll share new books I've purchased, whether for my boys or for me, that are on the horizon of our reading lives.

For links to the following three books, click here for the best price I could find (April 2017). I am planning to use Sabbath Mood Homeschool's Science Guides for Form III next year (for more information on the science guides and the unlinked books below click here).  :

Matter and Energy: Principles of Matter and Thermodynamics - Paul Fleisher
Liquid and Gases: Principles of Fluid Mechanics - Paul Fleisher
Objects in Motion: Principles of Classical Mechanics - Paul Fleisher
The Planets - Dava Sobel

The Way: The Essential Classic of Opus Dei's Founder - Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By - homilies by Josemaria Escriva de Belaguer
This has become a favorite devotional during Lent and the Easter season. It draws heavily from St. Josemaria's writings so it made sense to me to go to the source!

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise - Robert Cardinal Sarah
This book keeps coming up in homilies and articles by people I respect and I am eager to read it. The topic is so critical for the Church and for the future of humanity itself.

The Story of the Bible Vol I: The Old Testament
We listened to the audio version and it was good (though we thought some of the sound effects a bit silly). Though I wanted this book to read again as it gives such a good overview of the narrative of the Old Testament, I really did buy it for the whole family!

Other books

I do want to read this book, but put it aside for now after reading through the first several pages. I am not a fan of reading parts of books; if I am going to read a book, I want to read through the whole thing. This book is divided into three parts: history, profiles of Rosary "champions", and practical advice on praying the Rosary. I just was not in the mood to read the history section, so opted to put it aside until I am. I do love the Rosary, though, and look forward to reading it down the road.

Books with my boys

Pinnochio - Carlo Collodi, illus. by Roberta MacDonald (I can't link to the exact book we have, and I like the illustrations so well that I don't wish to link to another version!)

We all liked this book very much. It was painful to watch Pinnochio continue to make such poor choices throughout the book, and then to make excuses for them. Oh, how we are all like this! I think that is where the pain comes in - this book is a mirror. But rejoicing comes when he is able to become a real boy at the end because he has chosen the right path.

(I cannot get the image to work here, sorry!)
The Chestry Oak is the book that, rather officially, made me fall in love with children's literature and has become a bit of a standard by which I compare other children's books. Written in the late 1940s by Kate Seredy, it is a historical novel of WWII taking place in Hungary during a time of change and peril. Promoting all that is truly good, true, and beautiful, it does not shy away from pain and difficulty but rightly allows good to triumph in the end. Ever since I read this book myself, I have waited for the day to read it to my boys. Both are enjoying it, and it is stretching the imagination of my 9yo to see that there is a figurative way of using language as well as literal ("But mom, the Professor didn't really bring the war!") So highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Reading and keeping update 4/1/17

Such an exciting week of reading and keeping! I have probably said this before but I so enjoy beginning new books and finishing them. I did both this week.

As I am growing all of the time in my understanding of and appreciation of nature, it is such a joy to read about Callie's nature notebooks and observations. I also wish I could sneak a peek into her granddaddy's study/library. I have an idea of what it would look and feel like to be in there; gives me some ideas if I ever have the right space for something like it. Here's a passage I particularly enjoyed:

"Ook!" I cried and jumped back, almost overturning the whole apparatus. "Hewww," I said, steadying the microscope. I looked up at Granddaddy.

"I take it you saw your first microscopic creatures," he said, smiling. "Plato said all science begins with astonishment."

I feel like I have been reading this book for a long time. I guess that's about right - with the exception of this week, I have read it just a few pages at a time but was motivated to finish it and can now say goodbye. Really a very insightful read about the relationship between faith and art. The author is not Catholic, and yet so many of her ideas and insights are. It's really beautiful. (Admittedly, she sometimes goes off on a tangent and I am truly not sure what she is saying, or if I even agree, but the good nuggets are so worth finding.)

She blends thoughts on writing, fine art, faith, and Christian living so seamlessly. My book is crazily tabbed with Post-it notes - I am not sure how much will end up in my commonplace, but I have a feeling there will be quite a few quotes and passages. (And I love that she talks about her own commonplace book in here as well!) I really liked these from the last few pages:

Why should there be a conflict? All that the new discoveries of science can do is to enlarge our knowledge of the magnitude and glory of God's creation. We may, and often do, abuse our discoveries, use them for selfish and greedy purposes, but it is the abuse which causes the conflict, not the discoveries themselves. 


Picasso says that an artist paints not to ask a question, but because he has found something, and he wants to share - he cannot help it - what he has found.

In my past reading and keeping updates, I shared my struggles with getting a good study of philosophy off the ground. I began with Summa of the Summa, stopped that to read Aristotle for Everybody, and then left that for this gem. As the author of this book is basing his thoughts on Aristotle and it is very approachable for me, I am going with this book. I may return to the Summa; Aristotle for Everybody - I am not sure, perhaps not. It's good, but something about this book is a bit more living to me. I am only two chapters in, but this is not a book to speed read, or to read when I'm tired. I am trying to set aside a few minutes each weekday morning to either read a few more pages, take notes, or study the notes I have. I am reading a book that was lent to me - I would buy my own copy if they weren't so expensive!

I say it to myself often enough, so I might as well say it here: Charlotte Mason was an educational genius. I see her methods working in my home, in my kids, in myself. And when I read her words, I say it again - genius.

For this reason we owe it to every child to put him in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.

A book about Creation written by Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI? Yes, please! The beginning of the book of Genesis is beautiful but I have struggled to understand how to look at it. I know that as a Catholic, we do not view it as science, but we do take from it that God is the author of all. Beyond that, I am not always sure where to go from there. This book took his homilies on this topic and put them in book form. I am just a few pages in - so excited to dig deeper with this very wise and holy man.

I purchased this book a couple of years ago to use as an aid to our ancient history studies, looking for something Catholic-friendly. I cannot quite remember why, but we did not use it beyond the first few chapters - I think I probably found something else that I wanted to use instead. But I had the idea that I might like to read it on my own someday and I thought I would make someday today. :) I am especially interested in the Crusades as I have much to learn here. If I like it, I may use it to supplement the history spines we are using to give the Catholic perspective.

I purchased this at a library book sale after recognizing the author's name as one who was instrumental in the early-mid twentieth century in building up the Golden Age of Children's Literature. It appears to be a series of essays on various topics of literature. I just plunked it into my reading basket last night and didn't start it yet. More later.

Additional reading/keeping:

Nature journal:

I have taken John Muir Laws' advice to heart and am working on making a lot of sketches. I have already seen some improvement. I post here with some trepidation - I sketch only for myself and not for feedback - but perhaps someone just starting out could use some encouragement or inspiration. In addition to sketching a lot (for me, that is 2x a week), creating a stash of supplies has made all of the difference in the world, particularly the use of watercolors. It makes anything I do look better. :)

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens / Audible - narrated by Richard Armitage
This is my second-ever Charles Dickens book and it is as emotionally-involving as the first (Oliver Twist). I decided to give this a try when I found out the narrator is a professional actor (and one I really enjoyed in North and South). He is excellent. Normally, I do not listen to audiobooks when I am unfamiliar with the story; my mind tends to wander. But I decided to give this a try and am so glad I have. It is gripping, interesting, and just a very good story. Hard, yes, but good. I have a long way to go yet but am completely engaged. I listen to it primarily on the treadmill - makes it easier to bear. :) The only downside to audiobooks is that I can't commonplace from them.

Nothing is Impossible: The Story of Beatrix Potter - Dorothy Aldis
I chose this to supplement our World War II/British history studies. I thought it fascinating that her life spanned both world wars, that she wrote all of those wonderful books during such a turbulent time in history. A few chapters in, I have enjoyed learning about her solitary childhood, how she experienced the birth of her baby brother, and the pet mouse her butler helped her secure (she named her Hunca Munca). Last year, I read Beatrix Potter's Art - another wonderful book.

Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi/illus. by Roberta MacDonald
We are nearing the end of this story and truly enjoying it. You have to know it's good when your 9yo yells out, "Don't do it!" to Pinocchio as he (again) makes the wrong choice. So different and better than the Disney movie.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reading and keeping weekly update - 3/25/17

I so enjoy weeks when I finish books because, of course, it's very satisfying to see a book through from beginning to end, to enrich your life with all the people and ideas that I met on those pages. It's also a time to start new books and that is such fun.

Did I like it? Yes, I think I can say that. But there aren't many books that I have read where I don't particularly bond with any of the characters in the book. None of them were terribly easy to understand or get to know. Yes, my tendency to judge came through - a weakness of mine, for sure!  This excellent article by Bishop James Conley was a strong recommendation for me to read Brideshead, saying that its characters have "constitutions and weakness much like our own." I think another read would help me to see that better the second time around and to try to understand them better. I was very caught up in, perhaps, understanding small details that really didn't ultimately matter. It did, however, end with a bit of hope, as any good book ought to do. I liked this quote:
"....If you haven't a vocation it's not good however much you want to be; and if you have a vocation, you can't get away from it, however much you hate it...."

After finishing Brideshead, I decided to read something a bit lighter. I purchased this a year or two ago after seeing it recommended by Living Books Library, one of my favorite sources for books to read. It's got a nature theme, which I like, and a feisty young girl as its main character. So far, she reminds me of Caddie Woodlawn. Calpurnia is the only girl among many brothers, a definite factor in her feistiness. More to come.

This book is comprised of three parts: history of the Rosary, profiles of people strongly connected to the Rosary, and tips for praying or deepening our prayer in the Rosary. I'm just a few pages in but loved this quote where Fr. Calloway is talking about how this very powerful prayer came to be:

For the making of the spiritual sword, the Divine Craftsman used a combination of both techniques [casting from a mold and forging from iron]. Though this sword is spiritual in nature and not made of metal, the process employed for its construction involved both a mold and a forging method. The mold for the spiritual sword is the indestructible and inerrant Word of God. The two main elements to be poured into the mold were the Hail Mary and the Our Father. Once the mold was set, the Divine Craftsman forged the weapon so that men, women, and children could hold it in their hands and wield it against the enemy.

I am in the habit of reading just a couple of pages of this book at a time! It isn't that I don't enjoy it, rather I enjoy how she looks at things and so many of the things she says resonate. This book was written in the early 1980s; it could have been written last week.

It seems that more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label. To identify is to control, to limit. To love is to call by name, and so open the wide gates of creativity. But we forget names, and turn to labels....If we are pigeon-holed and labeled we are un-named.

I took some time off reading Aristotle for Everybody this week to catch up on notes I have tabbed. So, why not start another philosophy book, right? :) I will be studying this book with someone and she asked me to read the first two chapters. I was so thrilled that I was able to understand what I read!  I learned that there are many different ways to approach philosophy, but that Fr. Philippe approaches it through existent reality, observable by the five senses. That approach makes complete sense to me and I look forward to learning more about it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reading and keeping weekly update - 3/18/17

It's been a productive reading week, I'm happy to say. My kind husband gave me some time out of the house early in the week and I spent the day reading and studying.

I finally crossed the bridge this week. In most fiction that I read, and I tend toward classics, there is almost always a bridge to cross before I find myself completely on the journey, fully invested. The number of pages preceding the bridge differs from book to book, but I know I've hit it when I am no longer content to read a handful of pages at a time. Isn't there a time like that it all books, perhaps, other than the simplest of stories or those that are very short? (I remember reading The Mill on the Floss, an absolute favorite book of mine, and hitting the bridge at about page 100.) Anyway, this week I hit the bridge in Brideshead. Only a calamity should keep me from finishing it within the next few days. I won't say anymore more now but will write about it next week.

I finished my year-long stroll through the English countryside this week and it was lovely. Here is a poem that I particularly enjoyed:

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, 
The bird of dawning singeth all night long,
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm 
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
-William Shakespeare

In addition to its primary purpose as a nature diary, her reference on November 5 was intriguing and led me to a little history lesson. First, her entry:

Bonfire Night. The particular service commemorative of the Papists' conspiracy on the 5th was abolished in 1859.

She had me at Papists. I have heard the name Guy Fawkes before but never knew who he was. I wasn't looking to do extensive research but a quick look found this.

I was so excited to read here something I had just learned in a class on Holy Week, the concept of kairos and chronos. (During the class, we were encouraged to experience the events of Holy Week in the sense of kairos.) Kairos refers to experience outside of our understanding of time, and chronos meaning time by the clock. She said:

Perhaps one of the saddest things we can do is waste time, as Shakespeare knew when he had Richard the Second cry out, "I have wasted time, and now doth time waste me."

But being time is never wasted time. When we we are being, not only are we collaborating with chronological time, but we are touching on kairos, and are freed from the normal restrictions of time. In moments of mystical illumination we may experience, in a few chronological seconds, years of transfigured love.

I am so glad I decided to read this book; I have high hopes that it will help me understand other philosophical works down the road. I don't have anything particular to share as I spent much of this week writing notes in a notebook and making sense of what I've read so far. (I am taking notes in the notebook in which I began my Summa of the Summa notes; I guess it's become my philosophy notebook. See here for how I read and keep notes.)

This book gave me an idea for something that I have been struggling with for a long time. Around here, there are a lot of people who stand in the median at traffic lights holding signs asking for help. I am always torn. I want to help, truly. But how do I know what their real needs are? How do I know that my $5 is going to help and not hurt them? I saw it happen once, my $5 not being used as the man had said and in a way that would most definitely not help him. Through a story one of the authors shared, I've decided to put together some brown bags with non-perishable food in them: canned fruit, granola bar, and some nuts. I'll keep them in my car so that when I see a person in need, I can at least share something. I know it can't solve everything, but now I can look them in the eye and be at peace with what I am doing. I can share the love of Christ with them and, at the very least, light one candle in the darkness.