Constructive Criticism

” Jen, can I talk to you for a second?” No words make my heart sink faster than when someone rhetorically poses that loaded question. I instantly respond with, “Am I in trouble?” Usually this question stays safely in my head. I feel vulnerable. What did I do wrong and what do I need to do fix it? Will my gaffe sever or impair the relationship? Why did I not consider that they might be offended by ___________. Even when people use the “sandwich technique” of compliment, criticism, compliment what do I focus on? As an HSP, I’m quick to gloss over the compliments and fixate on the offense. And while I know it’s not just me AND that it may be getting not a little out of hand in society at large, I need to focus on what I can do to brighten my little corner of the world.

As Americans, we have gotten to where we are so easily offended that it is difficult to receive criticism that may, in fact, be warranted and dare I suggest beneficial to us. I’m not talking about the petty, “Mom! Why is there a bone in my homemade chicken noodle soup!” To which I am likely to give a less than gracious response coupled with a dirty look. No, I’m referring to things like, “Jen, I noticed you get defensive whenever I approach you about your Amazon spending habits.” (Many things could have been substituted but I may or may not have a slight book addiction.) So what is one to do when everyone is so touchy that we can’t offer any suggestions for improvement? Well, we can start by remembering a few essentials…

Words are important. The Bible has much to say about our words. Namely, keep it short and sweet (Eccles. 5:20), be quick to listen–slow to speak (James 1:19), our words are life or death therefore we should choose wisely (Proverbs 12:18) and so it goes on and on. But are we listening? We all seem so desperate to be heard, understood and affirmed that I’m afraid we’re missing out on what is most important: esteeming others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-5).

Facial Expressions and body language are equally important. I often don’t have to say a word, my face says it all. I maybe be quiet and a bit too direct but it’s hard to mistake the suppressed eye roll or the sigh of exasperation–the arms folded across my chest or the refusal to meet someone’s eyes. If I want to grow, I must be willing to learn from those who offer suggestions, if they have invested sufficient emotional capital with me to speak into my life. Open the hands, relax the shoulders and breathe…likely it’s not really as bad I imagine it will be. Approach it with curiosity…

If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out. As a child, this oft quoted witticism meant little to me. But as an adult I appreciate that people will not be nearly inclined to hear your constructive comments if you are less than willing to have the favor returned. Does that mean we shouldn’t correct others in a loving spirit? I don’t think so. I think it just means we all err and we all need to be willing to realize that often it is hardest to see our our faults. We tend to give much grace to ourselves and reserve judgement for others. After all we know our own intentions better than anyone, don’t we? (wink, wink.)

In the book Sensitive and Strong (Hughes and Gregory), which is a book about the inborn trait of high-sensitivity, Chapter 12 which deals with hearing and accepting criticism. Now I would wager that all of us, sensitive and non-sensitive have wrestled with having a flaw pointed out. Sometimes it is a genuine flaw and sometimes a wrongly perceived one. Hughes talks about a mistake she made whilst monitoring the school library to ensure that only one grade came in at a time. A particularly small fifth-grader desired admittance and because of her size, the teacher thought she was being disingenuous. The parent’s overreaction to the “offense” resulted in a very unkind letter. It appears as though the mother was a chronic complainer who may have been more offended at a teacher’s mistake than the child who was slighted. (Ahem…wish I could say I’ve never been that kind of mother…) However, Hughes took the letter to the Lord and sought ways she could develop herself as a person, and blow away the chaff of an offended parent.

Hughes had to make the decision of how to handle this less-than- gracious written confrontation and in this personal anecdote, she tries to teach us to do the same. She viewed this unpleasant episode as an opportunity for growth and we, by the grace of God, can do the same. Her first tip is, indeed, to consider the source. Is the offended someone who knows you well and cares about you or is it merely an anonymous rant? The author advocates ignoring the latter altogether–they have no power to speak into your life and you have no idea what motive or scenario prompted their words. If someone has something worthwhile to say, it is best that you know who they are. It is easy today to be cowardly behind our screens and say things we would never say in person.

Speaking of personal appearances, Hughes is a big advocate of criticizing in person whenever possible. I’m not sure about this one. I’m pondering the implications. I see the purpose behind the advice–often, in written communication, it can be difficult to accurately convey the tone of whatever is being said. However, as an HSP, I don’t tend to think well on my feet and my emotions tend to get the best of me. As a slow-processor, I do better in writing. It gives me time to be thoughtful and choose my words carefully. Perhaps I can do this in advance, as preparation for the in-person confrontation, and then take my thoughts to the offended and offer them in a humble spirit. Hughes suggests that if the criticizer does not confront you in person, or with your preferred method of confrontation, you should request that in future they do so in order that you will be able to give heed to their words without the distraction of an unpleasant delivery method.

After you have determined that the person is someone who has authority in your life, Hughes submits that you should :

say a quick prayer for eyes and ears open to the truth

listen without interrupting

take notes

clarify what you have heard

ask for examples

invite ideas for solutions

express genuine thanks

ask for time to process and meet at a later time as a follow up

Okay, so while these suggestions sound fabulous, in theory, it doesn’t sound realistic at all. At least not from the confrontations I’ve encountered. In fact, perhaps she’s not talking about marital conflict but I know from my experience when I ask my husband for examples or invite ideas for solutions in the heat of the moment, I don’t generally get much feedback as he can’t think of things in the heat of the moment. It’s not like he has a log where he’s keeping track. In fact, my husband and I seldom argue, but after nearly thirty-three years of marriage, I wish we could handle things this well. I sincerely desire that I could both give and request feedback in this manner. I’m not honestly sure where to start. If the criticism were coming from a friend or colleague this may come easier, but the one person in life who is most important to me deserves more than me spouting off when I finally decide to stop “stuffing.”

But hearing the criticism is just step one. The next step is evaluating what has been said. Praying for guidance about which things you need to hear and which you can set aside, how you can accept the criticism and show grace to the one who brought it to your doorstep. Hughes suggests making sure your physical needs are met before trying to do this: Are you hungry, stressed, tired? Not the time to deal with accusations, no matter how lovingly they are presented. Take care of your physical needs and then proceed–not forgetting to show grace to yourself, as well. The next step is to sort the helpful from the not helpful. Did the person give you any suggestions to improve? Can you add to them your own possible solutions? Come up with your best proposal for solving the problem. Set aside any unkind words that were said: focus on the reason you were confronted.

Finally, try to see the bigger picture–can something good come from this uncomfortable moment? Can your relationship with the criticizer be strengthened because they dared to approach you with an offense? Will your response be “a catalyst for something amazing in the future”? (Hughes and Gregory, p. 129)

Then Hughes suggests responding to the criticism/criticizer…own what is yours to own, develop a plan to change what you need to change, and then apologize if necessary (in person, whenever possible). Be sure to thank them for approaching you in your preferred manner if they have and if they haven’t, this is a good time to request a new method in future. This sounds a lot like an extension of the processing part above. It sounds rather stuffy and formal and I’m not sure that, except for an appropriately apology, it is very necessary. Again I am processing all this myself so I may change my mind. But this seems almost like dragging it out. I have questions: What if the plan you formulate to change whatever you deem necessary doesn’t work flawlessly? We are sinful creatures of habit…and change can sometimes come hard.

When Hughes confronted the parent that maligned her, in person, the mother refused to acknowledge her, much less engage. This is not unrealistic. It does happen. People refuse to accept apologies, nursing their wounds and playing the victim. In the age of social media, it is especially prevalent that people air their grievances with all their “friends” which is very immature and inappropriate. Sometimes giving the person time helps, sometimes it just exacerbates the problem, but we can only do what we can do and then the ball is in their court. Forgiveness is not really an option, but should they choose to live in bitterness, than they have much bigger problems than you. We need to forgive them, and move on. Easy to say, I know. But living in the past never helped anyone and you simply can’t be responsible for someone else’s choices.

As believers, we can pray for the one holding the grudge, set the example and move forward with the rest of our life. We are all human. We all mess up. For me, personally, the hardest person to forgive is myself. But I’m working on it…knowing if my Heavenly Father can forgive me, I would be wise to imitate Him, learn from my latest faux pas and press on toward the prize. Paul says, in modern paraphrase, that our weakness is our super-power. Rest assured, we will mess up plenty–say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, think the wrong thing– but our Rock, our Fortress is quick to come to the rescue. He knows our motives. He knows our names. And He is mighty, o so mighty to save us from ourselves. And for that, I am forever grateful.

Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?

Willows and Woollens pt. 2

My final thoughts on the first part of Home Education deal with the issue of nutrition, clothing and fresh air.  I am a self-avowed health nut.  We mostly drink water, eat our fruits and veggies and get outside for some daily exercise.  But I have to say I had never considered how digestion affects a child’s attention.  Specifically digesting a big meal while doing something else such as school or hard playing. Health trends change almost weekly, it seems.  When I was a kid, it was only eat 2 eggs a week because of the cholesterol.  Does anyone else remember the four food groups? It was before the food pyramid took over and then we went back to the plate.  Some of CM’s advise seems like it could be out of date.  Let the children have plain food and let sauce be their hunger. She also advises children should like what they are eating or they won’t digest it well.  I wonder if there is truth to that? Today our food is so processed and our taste buds so corrupted by said processed food that I have to wonder how one could feed their child foods that they like and make them nutritious, healthful choices? My son would eat pizza 3 days a week if he could and ice cream afterwards. But I do not choose to let him indulge in such practices. One of his tenth birthday presents was the gift to stop eating asparagus.  He really despises it but ate it without too much complaint for ten years.  I make him broccoli or cauliflower instead.

And then there’s the maaaaaatter of wool ( Did you hear the voice of the fuzzy little lamb? My family loves animal noises). CM really touts the benefits of wool clothing and advises it above anything else. I mean this lady really loves wool.  She even says that children should play in the rain in course serge (a durable twilled woolen or worsted fabric) without waterproof coats! As long as the clothing is changed promptly upon returning indoors.  The wetness is no more damaging to them than when they take a bath! Her reasoning seems to make sense. She advocates that the skin needs to breathe and when we stop it from breathing properly via our impermeable textiles we prevent toxins in the body from optimally escaping. So interesting! Alas just the idea of wool makes me start dripping sweat…  we  live in the tropics.  Surely cotton or linen must be a  far better choice than wool.  I mean she lived in England where it is NEVER warm enough to go in the water (ask me how I know) but here near the equator…

Well it turns out after a little research that wool actually works both ways which if I had just kept reading further in the chapter I’d have found out.  Apparently it’s homeostatic? This is a new word to me so I hope I’m using it properly.  What it means, to my understanding, is that it will keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot. You may sweat and it will pull the sweat away from you without you feeling damp.  So I decided to try it. I’m in the beginning of what I’ve boringly dubbed “the wool experiment”.  I bought a merino wool workout tank from a site called mountain steals.  It costs $35.00… this was a steep discount.  I have to say I rather like it but I question whether it is financially feasible to have all our clothes wool.  Have you ever been to the UK?  There are sheep EVERYWHERE… maaaaaahhhh.  Australia, New Zealand…. maaaaaaah.  The U.S. ? Crickets.  Hence the high prices. So my verdict on wool is if you can afford it, try it but if not, cotton has to be better than polyester.

And last but certainly not least is fresh air.  CM says fresh air is more important to proper brain function than good food or proper clothing, (and we know how highly she think of wool).  She talks about leaving the the windows open at least an inch all year round.  I had a friend when I lived in Germany who grew up in the Netherlands and she said they did this. Even in the dead of winter they slept with their windows cracked.  I try to think about the times when I read this with fireplaces in every room and depending on where you live the soot of factories filling the air… I imagine it could be a very unwholesome atmosphere.  Hygiene was not at its highest. But back then the houses were not sealed as tightly as they are today so I have to think this could still be a problem and that leaving windows cracked might not be as daft as it sounds.  This is where I can finally rest easy.  On our island, we have this one nailed.  Everyone leaves their windows open all the time.  Occasionally, such as last night, we run their air conditioning but that is rare.  The trade winds are our best friends and I have to say that at least in this dept. we have scored! But we probably won’t live here forever so I still need to keep this in the back of my mind…

So what are your thoughts? I’m amazed at CM’s common-sense wisdom.  I am not a doctor or nurse.  I’m just a humble teacher, by trade, but I must say that what she says makes a great deal of sense to me.  Sometimes I think we are too quick to dismiss the wisdom of ages past.  And while I don’t approve of blood-letting as a means of getting rid of disease (CM did not advocate that), I do think that some, maybe more than we’d care to admit of the timeless wisdom of the past might not be as outdated as many skeptics would like to think.

Carpe Diem

Have you heard the one about the engineer who drove his train into a Navy medical boat to prove that it wasn’t really a floating hospital? I wish I were a day late for April Fools but apparently this really happened. The engineer must, of course, been mentally unstable, and at trial will be facing a sentence of up to twenty years in prison (which I imagine would be commuted to a mental health facility). But it begs the question: What in the heck are people thinking? While there are no shortage of conspiracy theories abounding has it really come to such random acts of violence? Thankfully no one was hurt. Not even the engineer, surprisingly. And then there’s the man hoarding medical supplies who was descended upon by the FBI earlier today…sigh.

I think some people are having a harder time with this self-quarantining than others. I am fine. Especially if my husband is home. It’s getting to me a little, but as an introvert, I love watching educational videos and reading.I love the break from social interaction and trying to adapt myself to a non-HSP world. Currently I have an embarrassing stack of books next to my bed, each waiting patiently for my full attention. I am currently reading “Up From Slavery” which is the autobiography of Booker T. Washington and a fascinating read! Really positive and inspiring. If I Booker T. were alive I would nominate him for President because he just really had a heart to help and unify the nation in the difficult period of reconstruction. His magnanimity, despite being a former slave, toward the southern white man is quite remarkable and his desire to help his people transition to freedom through education, including industrial education, is a model we should be following in our schools today. In the self-help genre, I’m reading “Sensitive and Strong” by Hughes and Gregory which is a book about highly sensitive persons. It is both a practical help and an amazing revelation to me of what goes on in my brain…

But for some people, the thought of being aware of what is going on inside their minds is uncomfortable. Most people’s routines have been upended with no hopes of going back to “normal” in sight; they are home with their children, who are also experiencing life interrupted and handling it as best as little people can. People are afraid to go to the grocery store, can’t find toilet paper and aren’t supposed to get with 6 feet of anyone who does not live inside their home. We have noticed many people have been out and about in our neck of the woods, as the weather has been quite pleasant. I haven’t seen a lot of strict social distancing going on in our neighborhood but we aren’t having church or any group meetings and I’m pretty sure the President is going to announce to everybody they should start wearing masks whenever we leave the house. Which is kinda …weird and unsettling. We just wanted to go for a drive to see Bluebonnets tomorrow but the county where we planned to drive to–closed. To anything but necessary travel.

Isolation comes in many forms. We can isolate ourselves due to depression or anxiety and it usually doesn’t turn out so well. This kind of isolation we find ourselves in the midst of today will hopefully save thousands of lives but it doesn’t make it much easier to handle. We are nervous, fearful and left alone with the internet and the news media. Not a good combination. We can get on each other’s nerves, say things we don’t mean and voila–more walls. Thankfully, we can stay connected with friends and extended family virtually through Zoom, Skype and Facetime. My 13 year old HSP homeschooler, who is on spring break this week, has been playing games on the Switch with his much older brother, who lives 17 hours away via car. We were supposed to be visiting him and his family soon but clearly that won’t be happening. A. expressed his frustration with the situation and said, “Sometimes playing together online just isn’t enough.” Yes, I feel his melancholy. And it is especially for this my heart aches. I’m fine but my heart hurts for my son and his best friend and my friends whose husbands have lost jobs or whose jobs require things that are placing major stresses on the family when stress is already at a an all-time high. I hurt for the hurting.

So what do we do to stay connected? To weather the storm? While it’s terribly old-fashioned, letter writing could be a fun, low-tech way to keep each other in the loop. Baking cookies, going for long walks, listening to audiobooks or even facebook live recordings together. One of my son’s favorite authors, Andrew Peterson, is reading from his whimsical, fantasy books on FB live in order to promote morale and book sales. I find this to be an amazingly creative way to boost spirits and supplement his income since many of his singing engagements have been canceled (he’s a recording artist primarily who writes children’s books on occasion). If your family is spread out, use Duo or Zoom to have a family meeting. I try to keep it low tech as much as possible but for everything there is a season and this appears to be the season of screens. I will probably never say this again but for now: it’s okay to use technology to combat isolation. To stay together and encourage each other until this passes.

But above all, recharge your batteries. Spend time with the Lord in His word and ask how He can use you during this time of anxiety, sadness and hopelessness. Think of this as an extended enforced Sabbath. We in American and Western Europe have for so long neglected the commandment about honoring the Sabbath, perhaps we can use this as a catalyst to restore a time of communion with our heavenly Father. Pray for the hurting, sick and dying and treasure the memories you can make with your loved ones. These memories will be the bedrock of stories. Stories the children of today will one day tell their grandchildren. Just as many of us heard our grandparents talk of the Great Depression. Please don’t waste this time asking why… Ask instead, what next? How can we celebrate each day we have together being grateful for all that we have and for all that He’s done. Don’t. Miss. This. Moment.

Coronavirus Pandemic 2020

So we have been quarantining ourselves for over two weeks now–not because we are sick but because we are trying to help “flatten the curve” as the popular tagline goes. We have been fine. Even my extrovert son is coping unusually well…though his best friend is struggling with all the changes that have been required. She is a public school student and is not used to being home-schooled. Wolf loves being home-schooled and has no desire to go to public or private school…though he does miss our home-school support group’s park day. As an HSP, my heart aches for this sweet girl and for all children whose worlds have been turned upside down.

Another lady I know from our small little AWANA club (which has also dismissed for the foreseeable future) is struggling mightily: type 1 diabetes, no health insurance, husband was just last night laid off from one of his five PT jobs, sassy six year old with undiagnosed sensory processing issues…she is so overwhelmed and I feel so helpless as to how to give her hope. Even the best advice falls flat when your world seems to be falling apart in front of your very eyes.

For the most part, I am fine. Social distancing doesn’t bother me. My dh is still at work and so he does the grocery shopping so that we don’t have to be exposed unnecessarily. He is thinking they will work from home in the near future so that will definitely help me cope even better than I have been. I don’t know anyone who has the virus–a couple of out of state friends suspect they did but didn’t get tested or weren’t able to. My dh knows someone who knows a healthy 59 year old man who contracted the virus and died four days later. My family doesn’t seem to be affected. I am most concerned for my preemie grandson who was born the end of June at 28 weeks and has spent most of his young life in the hospital. His mother and father have kept him home but about a week ago, mom had to go to hospital for an ovarian cyst that ruptured and she could have been exposed. I try not to think about it.

I am trying to stay busy reaching out to people virtually, copying scripture into my notebook and taking walks with our two rambunctious Schnauzers. It has been mostly sunny which does much to keep my spirits up–when rain comes I can definitely notice it’s harder to be positive.

Well I need to go spend some time with my 13 yo. We need to play games and go for walks and keep on moving… this feels like it will last forever but after President Trumps warning to prepare for a very difficult two weeks… I am dreading hearing the death toll. I have to rest in the sovereignty of my heavenly Father and know that even when everything feels out of control, He is still on the throne.

A lovely unscripted day

So today, as usual, I made a to-do list–it had about six things I really wanted to get done today. Writing on this blog wasn’t one of them…I got a grand total of ONE of them done. But the amazing part is that I still had a really fabulous day! Not just a good day, but a really enjoyable day. I’d even go further than that–I had a great weekend. Today marks two weeks since we have been practicing social distancing. This is an attempt at quelling the very mysterious virus infecting much of the world–seeking to escape becoming a statistic of what is classified as a pandemic. We are all well. In fact, as homeschoolers our lives haven’t changed all that much.  My husband, thankfully, still has his job and not so thankfully, is not working from home. (I’m one of those unusually blessed wives that cannot get enough of her beloved.)  But many are working from home or have lost their jobs. Toilet paper is scarce, even though there is no reason it should be and some parts of the country are staring at empty shelves in the grocery store. Schools and daycares have been dismissed or are being conducted via distance learning. Events canceled, Hotels closed. It is quite the ordeal. We are on spring break next week and so though we will remain at home, there is little lesson planning to be done and even less socializing.  But the weather this weekend has been delectable and the company could not be any finer. I love being with my guys.

As an HSP mama, the coronavirus has been somewhat anxiety producing. Now anxiety is a familiar friend to me.  But something that can make this unwelcome visitor disappear faster than ice cream sitting on a hot porch in July, is for me to be outside in nature.  Whether hiking in the mountains or simply spending the day gardening with the love of my life, I just feel calmer and more grounded when I’m out-of- doors.  This afternoon, as I walked past my mountain laurel bush that is struggling to become a tree, I noticed what I thought was a pesky, luminescent blue fly. He was large and he was acting like a bee. And then I realized–he was a bee! A Mason bee– which totally made my day. Mason bees are rare blue insects that have an incredible capacity for hard work.  I had never heard of them until our homeschool curriculum publisher began a group for neuroatypical students and called it the Blue Orchard Bees…which is another name for the Mason bee.  Since our philosophy of education is based on the work of Charlotte Mason, the bee is an especially fitting mascot. But I never expected to see one in my own backyard! And to capture a picture of it, since he did seem a bit camera shy.  It was such a highlight of the day… and it was totally unscripted!

I don’t know about y’all but I  tend to need reminding that I can deviate from my list.  That my list is a guide, not the master. As a believer in Christ, I am trying to let the true Master direct my days, my teaching, and my homemaking, but I still am all too eager to wrestle for control or to fail to see what is right in front of me. To encounter this bee, who frankly would prefer I not act as the paparazzi as he strove to placidly extract nectar from my mountain laurel, was a gift from my heavenly Daddy.  And I noticed it and soaked in the moment.  And then I promptly went and wrote it on my list, so I could cross off a second item…(kidding–but I so would do that!)

What unscripted moment in life have you enjoyed lately?

Creatures of Habit

99 out 100 things we think or do, we do from force of habit.  Wow. That’s a bold statistic from our beloved CM.  Actually I think it’s more of a generalization, than a raw number. I seriously doubt she sat there counting thoughts and actions!  Her point is that the greatest effort of life is decision making and that by running on the lines of habit, we are doing ourselves a great favor, so long as we are depending on carefully formed conventions that bring order and beauty to our lives and the lives of our posterity.

When I was growing up, I heard a lot of parents say things like, “Oh it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it!”  or  “He doesn’t know any better, he’s just a child!” But CM suggests that isn’t true at all.  She advocates that parents watch the habits of their children most attentively and “nip in the bud” any bad habits we see at the instant we see them. How? Well she doesn’t advocate sternness although gentle firmness should certainly be pulled into play especially when they are too young to reason with. She actually advocates neither punishing nor rewarding but replacing bad habits with good ones.  Part of this involves distraction and part of it involves deliberate effort on our part until the habit becomes natural.

There are, of course, different kinds of habits.  Today I want to talk about habits of thought. I think, therefore I am.  Who said that? What does it mean? I’m not sure but I do know this: thinking is very important. Let me change that. Positive thinking is very important. I have not always believed this.  I used to think positive thinking was a bunch of hogwash. But I am now a believer.  Why? Because after I had my last child, I was afflicted with severe postpartum depression.  I think on some level, I’ve always had anxiety and depression but it had come to feel so normal I didn’t usually see a problem with the way I was living.  But after little guy was born, I began to be more receptive to the idea of positive self-talk: talking to yourself as though you were your own best friend. And there’s really something to it!  Now my depression is chemical and hereditary but by allowing myself to be negative as my default, I was not helping myself and in fact was doing injurious harm beyond measure.  CM would not be surprised by this:

We think, as we are accustomed to think; ideas come and go and carry on a ceaseless traffic in the rut––let us call it––you have made for them in the very nerve substance of the brain. You do not deliberately intend to think these thoughts; you may, indeed, object strongly to the line they are taking (two ‘trains’ of thought going on at one and the same time!), and objecting, you may be able to barricade the way, to put up ‘No Road’ in big letters, and to compel the busy populace of the brain-world to take another route.” Vol. 1 pg 108

Now I have to say I never objected much to negative thoughts.  I thought that I was not a pessimist but a realist! And yet I was really exacerbating my condition by not putting in the effort to change my thoughts… to divert my train of thinking.  One of my assignments in recovering was to take a notebook around with me and note when I conjured up a negative thought. Many negative thinkers have done a great job of convincing themselves they are positive thinkers! I was not in that boat. I knew I was negative but I just called it a different name–real. I was just keeping it real!  But the second part of the assignment was to change your negative thought to a positive. Holy Fermented Fruitcake, Batman!  This sounds like something CM would have advised! Only she calls it diversion.

In fact in what I read today,  CM said that if we are unable, in any area, to “change the channel of our minds” (my words, comparing our brain to a TV set) then we were in very great danger of mental instability or as she put it quite plainly– madness! (p. 115) What a thought! I think she’s talking about being obsessed with something–a person, germs, fears, etc. If we let any part of it take over our lives, we are in fact not doing much living. The thing to remember is thoughts leave marks on our brain tissue and the more often we have the thoughts, the deeper the ruts they leave and it becomes easier and easier to think those thoughts, simply because are accustomed to think them! Then we have the job before us: We MUST change our thoughts.  It will take time but it is really the only choice we have if we are to provide a healthy atmosphere for ourselves and our families. And here’s the good news, after a while those healthy thought will be just as easy to think as the unhealthy ones were before we knew any better. It’s a whole new life!

Will it be easy? Without a doubt, it will be the hardest thing you ever do. Initiating the first step is the hardest. The second time it will be slightly, perhaps imperceptibly easier. The third time it won’t be quite as difficult and if we just keep going and going over days, weeks, months and years, we will be in the habit of positive thinking! Think of a railroad track as good habits and your mind as the train. Our goal is to keep our minds on the track of affirming, life-giving thinking. We will not only stave off anxiety and depression, but we will be helping our children and grandchildren to do the same thing. Having a hard time knowing where to get started: I recommend one thing and it’s biblical (always a boon!): Thanksgiving.  Focus on giving thanks for every little thing: toothpaste, saran wrap, pencils, chairs etc.  Make lists of things, decorate the house with them.  Read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Keep a gratitude journal.

Not only will you learn to be content, but you will learn to trust the Lord and it will truly change your personal atmosphere and the atmosphere in your home. It is absolutely contagious and trust me, this is one thing you want to catch!

Habit.  Powerful.  Ten times stronger than nature.  That’s better than Superman leaping over the Sears Tower…. (for the record it will NEVER be the Willis Tower. Give it up already.)

Just do it again and again and again and again…

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thess. 5:18)

Next time, habits of action.  Think… making the bed or cleaning the toilets!  Hope you can join me!

Please feel free to comment below and join in this grand conversation!

 

Reflections on our Year with Mason’s Alveary by CMI

I brought this over from my other site because there was so much interest in it… It is not part of my pondering about the volumes, just our experience with this particular curriculum.

Some of you will remember that last year, about this time I went to the UK for a conference given by a group I knew little about: The Charlotte Mason Institute. It was  held in Ambleside, England which is where CM had her training college and school and I could not resist the urge to go over and wander where Charlotte did and hear some amazing speakers who were, shall we say, getting along in years…As we live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,  I fully expected to hear my husband say, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know how expensive that will be?”  I was pretty surprised to hear him say, “Sure! but you know it will just be you going, right?”  Hmmm… I prefer to have traveling companions and I invited many to go with me but all declined. Still I wanted to go and if it had to be alone… so be it. That’s how bad I wanted this.

I was not disappointed. I did go, had a lovely time and completely fell in love with CMI and the people who attended the conference. I am a pretty strong introvert and yet I felt energized being around them.  I did not feel the need to withdraw after  a couple of hours around them–I couldn’t get enough! Ok one time I needed a ten minute “retreat” but that’s astounding for me.  So when I found out last July that CMI had developed a curriculum and were looking for people to pilot it–I was beyond excited. Again I expected my husband to balk at turning on a dime to do this (we were currently using a free curriculum) but he wholeheartedly supported me. So began our year. [Oh and if you’re wondering, an Alveary is a beehive, which was the name CM used for her lab school on the premises of her teacher’s college.]

What I loved about our first two twelve-week terms with the Alveary (we start our last term on Monday) was having the schedule done for me, taking the guesswork and expense out of finding living books, (never mind countless hours of research), and the sense of community in our Facebook group. True I had met some of the people in the UK but the others I had not met were equally sweet and like-minded. I don’t believe I have found one person I found abrasive. I also relished the training opportunities. Because I live in Hawaii and am 3-6 hours away from mainland time, having the numerous webinars recorded allowed me to watch them at my leisure.  I’m still hoping to attend one live eventually! And then there are those things I just would not do if I didn’t have someone to hold my hand–like Sol-fa lessons.  The Alveary started off rough here with a sweet lady who offered to help design lessons but had an illness in the family. But someone else felt led to step up and things are running very smoothly.  She even has live online lessons for those who don’t have to get up at 6 AM to do them:)  I watch them later and they are fabulous and most importantly, we are getting it done–together! Did I mention I am just in love with these people? Such camaraderie!

 But the struggle is real. During the same time period it was initially bumpy. Foremost was the technicality of getting my schedule set up/formatting. Probably a trouble you’d expect being part of a pilot group.  It is not a paper schedule that comes to you in the mail. You have to create a spreadsheet.  If I hadn’t had a tech savvy husband (who seriously has a hobby of making spreadsheets), this might have been a deal breaker for me.  I say might because I know that admin was making every effort to work with the technically challenged so perhaps I could have muddled through but because of Dh, I didn’t have to take them up on this. Currently they two options for scheduling: one is by week and one by subject.  It’s always nice to have options.

Additionally though we loved most of the books, I did not love all of them. One author in particular I really struggled with but with my team of friends I came up with other options. Some books are harder than others but again that is to be expected. We tried Pilgrim’s Progress in the original language for a full term and then switched to the modern version, which the Alveary  recommended for those in my circumstances. I didn’t love the math choices, but again that is not the fault of CMI as there are not many true to CM math curricula out there. I can think of one, actually and it’s still somewhat in development.  Sloyd (pronounced slade) is the Swedish word for craft and we have been working on something called paper sloyd which involves a lot of measuring,cutting and folding. Did I mentioned I failed cutting in Kindergarten? And that my husband says I have spatial issues?  I started off really disliking this and then somehow, sweetly convinced Dh to take it over and teach me too (most of the time)… so now I’m actually enjoying it (almost)! And Dh sees the value in it too.  Recently he said to me, “You know that thing with the funny name we do (he refuses to call it Sloyd), A. really needs that!”  I think he was implying my son had my lack of spatial skills but I’m going to overlook that…because I’m so grateful he’s been willing to step up to the plate here as well as in sewing…You’re the best babe!

And then there was drawing and painting.  Yuck!  A whole new paragraph to devote to the fact that I really detest drawing and painting (dry brushing they call it) because… well I really stink at it.  And my son, well, he’s not very comfortable with it either. Hmm… could he be feeding off my attitude?? But even though we do not do it as often as we should, we are improving. Probably A. more than me because I make him do it  while I’m sitting on Facebook…. Ahem.  Yes I will improve in that area this next term…A lady at the conference in the UK told me that it was not about a beautiful work of art but about forming relationships.  At the time I thought–whatever.  I want it to look good!  But now I see she was right. It is about forming relationships, about appreciating the work of God through admiring and taking the time to notice His creation by careful observation.

Along those same lines, there is this thing called nature study and it was another area at which I did not excel.  This is part of the drawing/dry brushing domain because drawing these creatures/plants is a way to study them. But there is more to nature study–journaling and careful observation.  It requires a copious amount of time spent outside. CM suggested that school age children spend no less than three hours a day outside.  A lofty aspiration! And though we fall dismally short, we are outside more and you know what my son is excited about birds! And I’m excited about birds–they are actually like my friends and I notice them and their songs in ways I never did before. I pore over field guides just to identify them so I can call them by name. We take nature walks though it’s usually just around the neighborhood.  And I share my findings with my group, my team, my peeps! And they are thrilled and amazed with  me….

So you see, everything that has happened this year, has been a blessing. Even the negatives have turned into things I am starting to enjoy.  The Alveary has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and discover new things about myself and my family. It shouldn’t really surprise me at all because my whole relationship with CMI is birthed in stepping outside of myself–putting my fears aside for a greater cause. A year ago, I traveled over 7,000 miles by myself to attend a conference in the “Mecca” of CM -world. It’s true that after I arrived in Manchester after 22 hours of travel, that I cried. I sobbed. For hours. But the next day I got on the train to Windermere, took a taxi to Ambleside (and remain friends with the cabbie’s wife, a homeschooling mum, to this day) and met a whole group of new friends. New family. A new life.

So while it might sound kind of corny or overly dramatic to an outsider, I assure you that this is about  so much more than which books you need to use or which math program will propel your child into a top-notch engineering school.  It’s about relationships that make life so much richer and meaningful. It’s about knowing God and loving others and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us all things, because well, that’s His job.  It relieves so much pressure from the mom/teacher’s shoulders when you finally realize you can’t make your child learn anything. It’s not your job. It’s our job to learn with them by reading the best books: spreading a glorious feast of literature and nature and beauty. And then to step out of the way and allow the Spirit to work.

That’s what I got out of my year with the Alveary.  Priceless.

Now if I can just figure out a way to make that Folkdancing thing happen….

 

Willows and Woollens pt. 2

My final thoughts on first part of Home Education deal with the issue of nutrition, clothing and fresh air.  I am a self-avowed health nut.  We mostly drink water, eat our fruits and veggies and get outside for some daily exercise.  But I have to say I had never considered how digestion affects a child’s attention.  Specifically digesting a big meal while doing something else such as school or hard playing. Health trends change almost weekly, it seems.  When I was a kid, it was only eat 2 eggs a week because of the cholesterol.  Does anyone else remember the four food groups? It was before the food pyramid took over and then we went back to the plate.  Some of CM’s guidelines seem like it could be out of date.  Let the children have plain food and let sauce be their hunger?  She actually delineates foods she finds appropriate, Oatmeal among them (my family would be throwing tomatoes at her!) She also advises children should like what they are eating or they won’t digest it well.  I wonder if there is truth to that? Today our food is so processed and our taste buds so corrupted by said processed food that I have to wonder how one could feed their child foods that they like and make them nutritious, healthful choices? My son would eat pizza 3 days a week if he could and ice cream afterwards. But I do not choose to let him indulge in such practices. One of his tenth birthday presents was the gift to stop eating asparagus.  He really despises it but ate it without too much complaint for ten years.  I make him broccoli or cauliflower instead.

And then there’s the maaaaaatter of wool ( Did you hear the voice of the fuzzy little lamb? My family loves animal noises). CM really touts the benefits of wool clothing and advises it above anything else. I mean this lady really loves wool.  She even says that children should play in the rain in course serge (a durable twilled woolen or worsted fabric) without waterproof coats! As long as the clothing is changed promptly upon returning indoors.  The wetness is no more damaging to them than when they take a bath! Her reasoning seems to make sense. She advocates that the skin needs to breathe and when we stop it from breathing properly via our impermeable textiles we prevent toxins in the body from their optimal escape. So interesting! Alas just the idea of wool makes me start dripping sweat…  we  live in the tropics.  Surely cotton or linen must be a  far better choice than wool.  I mean she lived in England where it is NEVER warm enough to go in the water (ask me how I know) but here near the equator…

Well it turns out after a little research that wool actually might be a sound choice even for warmer climates.  If I had just kept reading further in the chapter I’d have found that out without consulting google and my CM FB peeps.  Apparently it’s homeostatic? This is a new word to me so I hope I’m using it properly.  What it means, to my understanding, is that it will keep you warm in cold weather and cool in hot. You may sweat and it will pull the sweat away from you without you feeling damp. Now I am an amateur jogger (think turtle in peanut butter), so I decided to try it. I’m in the beginning of what I’ve boringly dubbed “the wool experiment”.  I bought a merino wool workout tank from a site called mountain steals.  It costs $35.00… this was a steep discount.  I have to say I rather like it but I question whether it is financially feasible to have all our clothes wool.  Have you ever been to the UK?  There are sheep EVERYWHERE… maaaaaahhhh.  Australia, New Zealand…. maaaaaaah.  The U.S. ? Crickets.  Hence the high prices. So my verdict on wool is if you can afford it, try it but if not, cotton has to be better than polyester.

And last but certainly not least is fresh air.  CM says fresh air is more important to proper brain function than good food or proper clothing, (and we know how highly she think of wool).  She talks about leaving the windows open at least an inch all year round.  I had a friend when I lived in Germany who grew up in the Netherlands and she said they did this. Even in the dead of winter they slept with their windows cracked.  I try to think about the time period when I read this with fireplaces in every room and depending on where you lived the soot of factories filling the air… I imagine it could be a very unwholesome atmosphere. She really emphasized the importance of country air.  Hygiene was not at its highest in the crowded cities.  But back then the houses were not sealed as tightly as they are today so I have to think this could still be a problem and that leaving windows cracked might not be as daft as it sounds.  This is where I can finally rest easy.  On our island, we have this one nailed.  Everyone leaves their windows open all the time.  Occasionally, such as last night, we run their air conditioning but that is rare.  The trade winds are our best friends and I have to say that at least in this dept. we have scored! But we probably won’t live here forever so I still need to keep this in the back of my mind…

So what are your thoughts? I’m amazed at CM’s common-sense wisdom.  I am not a doctor or nurse.  I’m just a humble teacher, by trade, but I must say that what she says makes a great deal of sense to me.  Sometimes I think we are too quick to dismiss the wisdom of ages past.  And while I don’t approve of blood-letting as a means of getting rid of disease (CM did not advocate that), I do think that some, maybe more than we’d care to admit of the classic wives’ tales of the past might not be as outdated as many skeptics (myself included) would like to think.

 

Willows and Woollens pt. 1

Wow.  It’s going to be hard to capture the essence of the first quarter of Home Education in one post.  Remember I’m not usually going to narrate here but marinate.  Discuss. Ponder.  In this first volume, which is written to encourage young mothers in bringing up their form one and younger children (under age 9), CM focuses much of her writing on nature and the children exploring the wonderful world around them through their five sense.  She stresses that in any kind of weather, children should be outside for a minimum of 2-3 hours/per day in winter and 4-6 hours in the summer months. Have you picked your jaw up off the ground?  That is a serious amount of time outside. And it was in England, where rain is usually in the picture more days than naught. Lest you think this is just a matter of sending your littles outside and you sitting on the sofa eating bonbons all day watching HGTV (because that’s what we homeschooling moms do, right?), she implores us to not just send them outside but to be outside with them. OUCH.  I think she just stepped on my toes.

Now I’m not sitting on the sofa with bonbons or HGTV, though if we had HGTV it could be a problem… I do love Fixer Upper… but I am sitting on Facebook or this blog or doing housework etc.  And sometimes that stuff needs to be done but …what is my priority? She tells us to let our kids engrossed in their own explorations but suggests that we are nearby doing our own thing–knitting, gardening, basically setting the example.  “Never be within doors when you can rightly be without…” is commonly quoted within CM circles.  And this is so true.  Some things do need to be done indoors but we can all probably spend much more time outdoors than we do.

By way of example, last March we had a holiday a the beach for a week and we spent 6-7 hours a day outside.  Can I just say that by 7 pm I could barely keep my eyes open? I was happily exhausted. Content. Blissful.  It was so hard to leave…tears.  And that was from me. The funny thing was we inadvertently left early… or started to.  I had the dates mismarked on my calendar so we “checked-out” early but we had taken separate cars so I went home and my husband went to take care of business and settle the bill and such.  Happy day when he called and told me we had one more night!!  It was so glorious and the next day, I was ready to leave. But I miss those days at the beach… we need more of them. Not just the kids, we all do.  Get outside more. In the islands we say, “Get Salty.”

CM also advises us not to get in the way of the child’s relationship with nature.  As teachers, as parents, as adults we tend to talk too much. We impart our wisdom, we feel this to be our duty.  But is it?  Doesn’t nature speak for itself? Are we doing more harm than good? We are to send the children off to observe nature scenes and then come back and describe them to us in vivid detail before we wander off with them to witness their discoveries.  But surely we can’t do this, it’s not safe these days! Proof that CM lived in times past and just didn’t understand how impossible this would be for the modern mother.  Hey, no judgement here.  I sent my 10 year old off to the park and then hovered nearby… making sure that no unsavory characters were lurking on the premises…He’s ten.  The park is across the street.  Do I really need to helicopter parent? Umm, maybe?

The struggle is real.  Is it truly more dangerous to leave our children to engage in masterly inactivity than the past or do we jut know more than we used to? “Knowledge is power!” we say, but we also say “Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing…” Whether or not its permissible to have our children outside our line of sight is something we probably all wrestle with to some extent.  Is it responsible parenting to send our children off even five minutes away from us? Remember that CM often advised taking them via rail or coach to “lonely places”… which implies that they were not often frequented by others. Also there is comfort in numbers. Sending a group of boisterous, laughing children off to observe seems safer to me than sending one off by himself. So do we do this in groups? A small natural history club?  I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m trying to discover them…what are your thoughts? I do love how she insists that the children really do their work before they get the reward of you coming to see their treasures. No slacking allowed!

So by now you can tell, if it has even taken you this long, that I do not know everything. I do not have all the answers and I’m a pilgrim on this educational journey just like you. Not everything I say will be “CM Gospel” … it is just what is running through my mind. I welcome your thoughts, I welcome being challenged if you are doing so from an authentic CM stance and are studying her volumes for yourself and I openly invite discussion.  Next time we will finish up this initial post with riveting discussions on CM’s “old-fashioned” ideas of nutrition, fashion, and air purification … or was she perhaps ahead of her time??  I do hope you’ll join me!

Before we begin…

 

Beware of experts, bloggers and podcasts!  Yes I did just say that, even though I am somewhat of a blogger myself.  We can rely on these things far too much.  They are good. Well some of them are good.  Some of them are very good. Some maybe not so much. But none of them replace the words of Charlotte Mason herself.  Let me explain–unless you read the volumes for yourself–you actually have no idea how accurately the author(s) or speaker(s) are portraying the principles of Charlotte Mason. There is more than one interpretation. It is a dangerous thing to implicitly trust those who claim to know.  Just as you would never only read bible commentaries without reading the scriptures for yourself, it is a vital idea that you read the “gospel of education” CM puts forth in her very own words. Otherwise you may easily though inadvertently be led astray.

Right now my online study group is reading Home Education which is volume one of Charlotte Mason’s volumes.  We’ve been studying for about a year now and this is actually my first time studying with a group. We meet once a month on Zoom. Prior to this group I had actually been trying to do another online group but we just did message boards and it didn’t work as well.  I guess the accountability just wasn’t as good as when you actually “meet” even if it is online. One important thing to note is that it has recently come to light that CM’s volumes should be read in order from 1-6.  When we started,this “discovery” had not come to light  and so went out of order. Even though I ‘met’ CM about 10 years ago, I only just a year ago in earnest began studying her volumes.  It has really made all the difference.  Before I just read bit and pieces and a lot of what others said about CM and her methods. But to read it from her own pen is so much more helpful.  It may seem obvious but the volumes can seem daunting.  They are not a light read and to a recovering book inhaler, having to read something just a few pages at a time felt…wrong!   Don’t get me wrong, I tried to read the volumes in the beginning but it was a bit like reading Chaucer or Shakespeare…it just didn’t go down easy.  It takes practice to get into what some would consider an antiquated style of writing. In fact, I actually did read volume one on my own (in that first group I talked about) and I can tell you that because I didn’t narrate it regularly, I didn’t retain as much as I would have thought.

Even all these years later, when it’s hard to remember exactly how hard it was to read (because now it seems so comparatively easy), still I can only read a few pages at a time for the most part.  Not because it’s boring or I don’t understand it but because it’s so rich–there is so much there to chew on! I shoot for four pages per reading.  Our group is moving along at a pretty brisk pace which is strange to say since it’s a two year reading program for seven volumes!  It doesn’t help that I feel compelled to write down practically everything she says in my notes.  Four  pages can seriously take me a while to wade through… and then there’s my new rule which I try to follow fastidiously: I only read what I can narrate.  I usually do oral narrations.  I don’t want to type the narrations though I do sometimes.  I’d like to hand write them but I’m too impatient. I’ve just heard things about how writing is really different than typing and that the brain retains it better. So when I take my notes, I hand write them. And if I had all the time in the world, I might pen my narrations but for now, I’m just focusing on shifting what I’ve read into from my short term memory into my long…

The biggest challenge for me in reading volume one is not tearing myself down for all the mistakes I made in child-rearing before I knew all this stuff.  It is difficult for me to not have regrets because my oldest children are adults.  I’m grateful to have a ten year old and another chance to practice things as Mason saw them but it’s hard to not think, “If only I’d known!”  I wasn’t even aware of living books and CM philosophy until my oldest was 12 and my middle child 8.  And then as I told you I didn’t really start reading the volumes til last year.  Guess I thought I could wing it!!  And when it wasn’t working as well as I thought, did I read the volumes? No I went to another way of schooling–so youngest child missed two vital years of CM… but I’m back and with zeal and enthusiasm. No more looking.  I’ve found what I was missing and the answer is… read the volumes!! Even five minutes a day will make a difference in your atmosphere. Take five years to read them all if you need to but just make progress and above all, narrate it to someone: your husband, your BFF, your Mom, your dog or even yourself (that’s what I do!)

I promise you it is time well spent–you will not regret it!

Next time I will start talking about volume one.  I’m about 1/3 through it so I will probably just pick up where I am but I hope you will study along with me and that we can have a grand conversation about our ‘golden nuggets’!

The hardest step is just getting started…