I have to be honest – biographies are not typically the type of book I reach for; they just haven’t really been an interest of mine. However, I decided over the next couple of years to include one or more in my reading plans each year.
Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, was my slow and steady read for 2016. I finished it up at the beginning of the new year and want to continue with her story this year.
While there are several works on either John or Abigail Adams, this is the first I have read. I enjoyed it immensely.
I imagine it is nearly impossible for a biography to not reflect biases held by the biographer. In this book, I certainly got the impression that the author held Abigail Adams in high esteem, as a woman of great accomplishment in spite of the restrictions that bound women of this time. Abigail was in some aspects very traditional and reserved, but in other ways very forward thinking and strong willed when it came to women’s welfare and interests.
Unlike some other books that primarily reference letters exchanged between Abigail and John Adams (including two I hope to tackle this year), this biography is told primarily through the extensive letters that Abigail Adams exchanged with a multitude of people, not only her husband but her children, sisters, and friends.
I think this allows for a fuller picture of her attitudes and actions, and illustrates the sometimes complicated relationships she had with others besides her husband.
Abigail Adams pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for women to accomplish and what role she had as a wife. She had a keen business sense and made many financial decisions independent of her husband. Due to John’s frequent absences she effectively was the head of household.
One thing that stood out to me was her drive for personal scholarship. I count myself lucky to be part of a great group of women (well, primarily women, but a few men as well) online who encourage each other to read more, read deeper, and strive for personal scholarship. Abigail Adams gave and received encouragement in this regard as well, in letters exchanged with friends and sisters.
My 2017 reading plan includes two more books that examine the life of Abigail Adams. I’m looking forward to continuing my study!
John Adams, for which David McCullough earned the Pulitzer Prize, which presents the life of the second president and which pulls from the extensive collection of letters exchanged between John and Abigail throughout their long relationship.
This week I worked through the Introduction in A Beginner’s Guide, and it was pretty awesome.
This is also not just a book for reading, but for doing. I have ordered a geometry set to use as I work through the book (and my kid’s aren’t allowed to touch it!). I know we have compasses and set squares for use in our math lessons, but I want a set all my own, for my own scholarship.
“Both Pythagoras and Plato suggested that all citizens learn the properties of the first ten numbers as a form of moral instruction.” A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe
I am finding this book goes along well with my other read, The Fourth Turning, which examines recurring cycles that occur in human history.
“When the lessons of symbolic or philosophical mathematics seen in nature, which were designed intro religious architecture or art, are applied functionally (not just intellectually) to facilitate the growth and transformation of consciousness, then mathematics may rightly be called “sacred.” A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe
Most of my May reads are my “slow and steady” titles, but I have The Beginner’s Guide, as well as a couple of fiction reads I hope to get to this month.
In Common is my weekly Commonplace roundup – notable quotes from the previous week, and current reading list.
I spent the final week of April trying to wrap up a few titles and make room in my stack for May reads. This past week I finished Experiencing God, Honey for a Child’s Heart, and 10 Habits of Happy Moms. I also read Henry and the Chalk Dragon to my children.
Experiencing God has been quite impactful – I’ve been working through it slowly since January and I strongly recommend it to Christians. No matter how far along your Christian walk you may be, you will be challenged in your relationship with God and come out with a deeper understanding of what it really means to experience God in your personal life, and as part of the larger Christian body.
“You can’t stay where you are and go with God at the same time.” Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God
I feel like I am late to the game, having only just now read Honey for a Child’s Heart, though I have been homeschooling since 2011, and have four children at home. This book is so full of goodness – and I am so thankful that our family leans so heavily on good literature, not just for homeschooling but for character building and family entertainment. This is a resource I will return to again and again as my children grow.
“Children’s books cannot be written for or down to children. Children reject books that do not treat them as equal.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart
The 10 Habits for Happy Moms is a great resource for moms who struggle to consider their own needs because they are constantly meeting the needs of others. Meg Meeker does a great job reminding women that self care is so important, and she addresses ten habits to cultivate to improve happiness.
“We all choose what thoughts will fill the spaces in our minds, if you will, at the beginning of the day. It is a simple mathematical truth that if we spend more time pondering what we don’t have, we will have far less time to feel grateful for what we do have.” Meg Meeker, The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers
I’ll mention Henry and the Chalk Dragon even though it is a family read, and not just in my personal stack. This is a must read for families. We had so much fun reading this book aloud. It is laugh out loud funny and so sweet!
“Don’t insult anything that has just shimmied down the drain.” Jennifer Trafton, Henry and the Chalk Dragon
I started a new book in April that I’ll work on over the spring and summer. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. Part ‘How to Read a Book’ and part great books reading list, I am enjoying this so far.
I am reading A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe this month with several others. I’ve only just started so I’ll share more as I get into it.
This book arrived at such a needed time in my life. While I think parenting in general is not an easy task, parenting four children ranging in age from 2 up to 10 years feels especially overwhelming most days.
Parenting children who are considered “different” certainly presents an additional layer of parenting challenges.
I have been working through several titles by Sally Clarkson (she’s one of my literary mentors for the year…) and if there was a word I would choose to describe her, I would probably choose “together.” This is such an incredible woman, a Godly woman who shares her experiences and wisdom for families and homeschoolers.
I was blown away with her raw honesty she poured out in Different. Along with her son Nathan, the pair talks about the struggles (and blessings!) of dealing with a child being different. They take turns sharing their experiences navigating a variety of issues, including OCD, ODD, and ADHD.
It was refreshing to read Nathan’s story from both his and his mom’s perspective. Reading this, you get an honest picture of the very real struggles that go along with dealing with behavioral and mental health issues. Clarkson also was candid about their struggles seeking professional help and a diagnosis. Dealing with mental health issues is an ongoing process, with good days and bad ones too.
“But even in this broken world, where our differences often come with burdensome baggage, the imprint of God on our lives still gives value to each one of use as we are.” (p.7)
Clarkson was candid about the tension that can arise between spouses as they parent a child that is different.
“Most OCD kids, we have learned, have one parent who acts as the ‘confessor’ in their lives – the one they go to daily to tell their recurring thoughts and find relief from the guilt those thoughts carry, the one with whom they find acceptance and sense of safety. ” (p. xxv)
While she shared some of the more challenging occasions in their lives, she also discussed some of the techniques or strategies she found helpful in her daily interactions with Nathan.
“I learned to appreciate and celebrate (not just “cope with it”) because all human beings are a work of the Artist and have infinite value to the One who made them.” (p.8)
“I intentionally pressed in on issues that would affect relationships, character, and faith and tried to back off of other, less crucial issue…” (p.41)
And she spoke of the heart and attitude necessary to deal with out-of-the-box type children.
“If we accept the puzzle we have been given and ask, “What can I learn at this juncture, God? How should I be humble and glorify You in this place?” then we will become stronger, developing muscles of faith, wisdom, humility, and understanding.” (p. 121)
Clarkson addresses something that parents everywhere probably struggle with, a need to control. We want the best for our kids, and so there is a conscious or unconscious desire to control things so we can guarantee a positive outcome.
“In our broken world, there is – and will be – much that we cannot understand or control.” (p. 135)
“He [God] does not require us to control our children or friends, much less ‘fix’ them. But he does call us to pay attention, to love others, to be the ones who reach out as consistently as possible.”
It was so encouraging to read about these struggles with mental illness and behavioral issues both from the perspective of the parent and the child.
I could go on and on with the powerful words and encouragement I got from reading this book. But I’ll close with two statements and then encourage you to read the book yourself.
“My most important ministry would unfold one obedient moment after another as I learned to love and understand and serve those who were closest to me. Nathan or one of my other family members would push my buttons. And I would have to overcome my feelings and practice giving patient answers, to give up my rights one more time…” and “walking in the power of the Holy Spirit often means choosing to be patient and loving when you feel like being impatient and angry.” (p. 137)
And from Nathan:
“The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don’t always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us. We can follow it into escape or addiction. But we can also follow it straight to God. To the One who knows us inside and out – with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles – and who still loves us. To the one who can not only handle our anger and our frustration and our questions, but can use them to transform them.” (p.186)
I have struggled over the years to establish a morning routine in our homeschool that I am happy with.
What I envision – the children and I enjoying time spent together with good books, doesn’t always happen. While we have had periods where we would start our day with a basket of good books, life happens and our routines fizzle out.
“Morning Time sets the tone for the day by helping us focus on those things that we ought to love.”
Rollins, with years of homeschool experience behind her, lays out her morning time plan. She details each area that she strives to cover. But, she also acknowledges that sometimes, morning time doesn’t happen, and that’s okay!
Rollins uses morning time not just for reading to her children, but also working on spiritual growth as well as memory work. As I read through this book, I felt truly inspired. While I made sure to have quality reading picked out for us (often choosing titles from Beautiful Feet Teaching Character Through Literature or Five in a Row), I think there was still a lack of direction to our morning time. To be honest, there were subjects I was trying to hit later in the day (like artist or music appreciation) that Rollins covers as part of morning time, and her approach seems more comfortable and natural.
“Morning Time is a liturgy ordering our affections towards those things which are true, good, and beautiful – it is a liturgy of love.”
Since I finished this quick read, I have already worked to implement some changes to our morning routine, and plan to incorporate more of her plans as the year progresses.
In the beginning of her book, Rollins lays out the elements of her morning time. These include:
Family Worship including prayer and hymns
Bible and Theology reading
Poetry reading and memory work
Miscellaneous memory work
She then expands a bit on each area. I won’t go into detail on each section, but several stood out to me and are worth mentioning here.
The morning meeting is just what it sounds like, a meeting before the day starts. This is a time to mention any plans for the day, upcoming items of interest, just to make sure everyone is on the same page.
During worship time, there are prayer requests and singing. Rollins discussed singing and learning new hymns. This was something that grabbed my attention immediately. After finishing the book, I printed out the sheet music to one of my favorite hymns, Just As I Am, and we have been singing it joyfully all week. I love the idea of making a family hymn book, with printed copies of those hymns we have learned.
For Composer and Artist studies, Rollins suggests using the schedule provided by Ambleside Online. We have previously studied composers and artists when Kyri was younger, using Harmony Fine Arts. We have not done anything formally in a few years though, and I do like the schedule that Rollins uses. We may adopt the Ambleside Online schedule for composer and artist study in the new year.
We have, over the course of two years, been working on Bible Road Trip, but I think Kyri wants Bible time to be more reading and discussing and less notebooking-type work. So I like the idea of having a routine of reading some scripture, followed by a chapter or segment from some Christian text. Nothing elaborate, just a page or two depending on the depth of the reading.
Bible memory is something we love around here. The children are active in AWANA, and so they are already used to learning and reciting scripture. We could incorporate verses from their AWANA books as morning time memory work, or follow some of the suggested verses that Rollins includes.
Rollins’ suggestion of alternating between Shakespeare and Plutarch really intriqued me. Earlier this year I was able to participate in a members’-only author event with Read Aloud Revival, featuring Ken Ludwig, author of How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, and this event really ignited an interest in reading through works of Shakespeare with my children. But we just haven’t gotten started yet. According to Rollins, it’s as simple as one scene, another scene, an act, and finally the entire play. One step at a time. Why should I even bother with Shakespeare? According to Charlotte Mason, it is “good for the instruction of the conscience and the molding of our judgements.”
While I have read a little Plutarch, I hadn’t really given it much thought as a component of morning time. But Rollins explains, “Plutarch can provide us with a way out of the red state/blue state divide and into the clear air of individual responsibility and the consequences of ideas.” So reading Plutarch can be used for teaching citizenship as well as training a child’s judgement. She suggests reading three lives a year. She does suggest that this be reserved for older children but than younger children could benefit from sitting in while it is being read.
One component that I am really excited to incorporate into our morning time is Memory Work. Rollins suggests well known speeches and historical documents, among other things. I’ve already got a small list of documents that I’d like to start with, including the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
I also recently finished up Mere Motherhood, Rollins’ earlier offering, and it was such a lovely compliment to A Handbook to Morning Time. While Mere Motherhood was published first, I am glad I read Handbook first. Having a firm grasp on Rollins’ morning time routine was really helpful as I was reading through her memoir, where she mentions her morning routines regularly but not in a super detailed fashion.
You can also keep up with Cindy Rollins in her podcast, The Mason Jar, at the Circe Network.
One of the benefits of currently living on the Forgotten Coast here in Florida is enjoying all the natural beauty around us.
This weekend we took a family field trip to nearby Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. Located near East Point, FL just before you drive over the Apalachicola Bay to St. George Island, this Reserve has an incredible Nature Walk, an Overlook for observing the Bay, and a wonderful Nature Center with lots of specimens, exhibits as well as aquariums.
Today I wanted to share one of Frost’s poems from his 1916 Mountain Interval.
A Girl’s Garden
A neighbor of mine in the village Likes to tell how one spring When she was a girl on the farm, she did A childlike thing.
One day she asked her father To give her a garden plot To plant and tend and reap herself, And he said, “Why not?”
In casting about for a corner He thought of an idle bit Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood, And he said, “Just it.”
And he said, “That ought to make you An ideal one-girl farm, And give you a chance to put some strength On your slim-jim arm.”
It was not enough of a garden, Her father said, to plow; So she had to work it all by hand, But she don’t mind now.
She wheeled the dung in the wheelbarrow Along a stretch of road; But she always ran away and left Her not-nice load,
And hid from anyone passing. And then she begged the seed. She says she thinks she planted one Of all things but weed.
A hill each of potatoes, Radishes, lettuce, peas, Tomatoes, beets,beans, pumpkins, corn, And even fruit trees.
And yes, she has long mistrusted That a cider-apple tree In bearing there today is hers, Or at least may be.
Her crop was a miscellany When all was said and done, A little bit of everything, A great deal of none.
Now when she sees in the village How village things go, Just when it seems to come in right, She says, “I know!”
“It’s as when I was a farmer…” Oh, never by way of advice! And she never sins by telling the tale To the same person twice.
We’ve got a bit of a patchwork garden going here, and the images that are evoked when reading this poem are just priceless.
I have children of my own – one of whom has also in seasons past asked for her very own garden bed. Her best crop ended up being the bird seed she planted…
There are so many images conjured up with this poem – a child wanting to try something new, willing to do the grittiest of tasks but embarrassed if she is seen doing them, and somehow with the confidence of youth, feeling as though one try at something has made her an expert. I can certainly see myself in her!
One link to share this week. Robert Frost spent years at his Derry Farm home, and it is a Historical Site now. The website has wonderful information, about his life and his works. It is worth exploring. One link I wanted to include was the Teacher’s Resources, which includes lesson plans and ideas to incorporate Frost poems into various subjects.
One resource listed, of interest to me, is using Frost in a more unconventional manner, to teach global warming, astronomy, botany, among other subjects. The link listed in the Teachers’ Resources is broken so here is the live link.
Here we are in the middle of June, so I though this poem would be fitting…
By June our brook’s run out of song and speed.
Sought for much after that, it will be found
Either to have gone groping underground
(And taken with it all the Hyla breed
That shouted in the mist a month ago,
Like ghost of sleigh bells in a ghost of snow) –
Or flourished and come up in jewelweed,
Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent,
Even against the way its waters went.
Its bed is left a faded paper sheet
Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat –
A brook to none but who remember long.
This as it will be seen is other far
Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song.
We love the things we love for what they are.
I love this… the image it evokes. Here in Florida, we aren’t even in summer officially yet and we are almost hitting 100 degrees F in the afternoon. We live close to a bog, and when I step outside in the evenings, I hear the noise of insects, crickets, and of course the frogs! I don’t know what kind of frogs we have in this area, maybe they are also the Hyla breed mentioned in the poem.
Last week, I shared a link to a fascinating article regarding a character attack on Frost. I had no idea some people felt so harshly about him. I’ve done some more reading, and I found a more detailed biography which speaks about Frost’s dark tone, and suggests the dark tone found in his later writing could be attributed to a decade-long series of personal tragedies.
Here is another story, this time in the Washington Post, about the Oates short story that took aim at Frost.
And here is the short story itself, published in the November 2013 edition of Harper’s Bazaar. I will say, it is tough reading a work of fiction about a real person. As you read, you are left wondering, where the truthful depiction ends and the fiction picks up. Taken with the various criticisms of Oates’s short story, it would appear that this picture of Frost is grossly exaggerated. But it is worth the read.