Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Sense of Place - Baraboo, WI by Heather Suemnicht

I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from a friend, Heather Suemnicht.  I first met Heather years ago at the Living Education Retreat where she immediately struck me as bright and magnanimous. As you will see, she lives in Baraboo (who wouldn't want to live in a place called "Baraboo"?), Wisconsin with her equally wonderful husband, Tyson, and their four progeny.

A Sense of Place by Heather Suemnicht

Connections are curious things. Two separate pieces come together at one providential moment and join to make a greater whole.  It’s exciting when connections are made, almost electric, when you can see the proverbial light bulb suddenly turning on.

I am a knitter. My fingers yearn for the feel of the wood and wool and the soothing rhythm of knitting together, connecting, the individual loops to make a united piece of fabric.  

People long for connections as well, relationships, a place, a sense of belonging.

Our hearts crave connection even more and this is no surprise as the Scripture tells us that it isn’t just our bodies but all creation that is groaning and eagerly awaiting that providential moment when our physical bodies will be redeemed and we’ll physically be united for all eternity with the Desire of our hearts (Rom 1:19-23, Ps. 42:2)

Connections have a way of, well, coming together. Sometimes they come together quickly. Sometimes they take a lifetime to form. Sometimes, connections can happen both slowly and suddenly, like the rain coming in.

Charlotte Mason shows us that education is the science of relations. We, as mothers and home educators, are filled with joy and awe and thanksgiving when we see those relations connecting in the minds and hearts of our children.

Little did I know, that ideas that have been planted and watered through my readings of Charlotte Mason’s works and through wonderful speakers at the Living Education Retreat (LER), would suddenly all come swirling together and connect in ways that I hadn’t imagined possible, to awaken within me both a desire for and knowledge of a “sense of place” for myself and my children.

At LER this summer, Jack Kelly entertained, encouraged and intrigued us with his plenary session on Biotic Citizenship. Awakened within me was a desire for a sense of place and the understanding of how vital language arts is to Environmental Education.  Even on the drive home, and still today, quotes he shared, like the one below,  are lingering in my mind:
                        “... a ditch somewhere – or a creek, meadow, woodlot, or marsh.... These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.... Everybody has a ditch, or ought to. For only the ditches and the field, the woods, the ravines – can teach us to care enough for all the land.”
— Robert Michael Pyle, The Thunder Tree, 1993

I wanted to further develop my sense of place. And how could I help my children develop a sense of place for themselves? Not just for our own comfort and enjoyment, not just for educational purposes, but also to see our Creator and know Him on a deeper level and be better able and willing to care for the land and people around us.

My thoughts ran back to another LER retreat from the summer of 2014. I remember Nancy’s special announcement that in honor of 10th Anniversary of the Living Education Retreat, it would be held at a special location—the beautiful Villa Maria in Frontenac, MN. How had they discovered this beautiful retreat center? Her daughter had read about it in one of her Natural History books about Minnesota! How beautiful! 

The pieces started migrating together…maybe I could find a book about my area that would help me! Where, how, could I find such a book about little old Baraboo, WI? And would it be a living book? Well, Providence was already at work in this. Out of the blue, my children asked to go to the bookstore! How could I turn that down? So, we went downtown to our local Book World. I steered my way through the aisles to the section on local history and the book practically jumped out at me! There it was, not to be mistaken with the title “A SONG OF PLACE, A Natural History of the Baraboo Hills”. If that wasn’t the book I was looking for, I don’t know what was! Alas, it was far out of my budget. I didn’t leave however without quietly noting the title and author to add to my wish list for another day.

 Fast forward a few weeks and my husband and I found ourselves running some errands in the nearby city of Madison. Madison has a Half Price Bookstore (meaning-- books I can afford!!), and my dear husband without hesitation took me to look around while we had some time to kill before the next appointment.  Providence again was at work and led me, almost directly to the book at the top of my wish list…and it was a third of the price! I immediately snatched it up.

Later that day, I had a chance to begin reading. I opened up to the prologue (because, yes, I’m the kind of person who has to start at the beginning) and I just about jumped out of my seat with excitement.  He started by talking about none other than Gilbert White, the English curate and naturalist. I probably wouldn’t have known of him or even recognized his name if I hadn’t been at LER last summer (2015) and learned about Gilbert White through Sandra Rusby Bell’s delightful talk on making a field guide to your own yard.

The connections were coming together at lightning speed now as I soon found out dear friends of ours knew the author and his wife, Kenneth and Esther Lange, and that he leads nature hikes at Devil’s Lake State Park just outside of town, whose Bluffs we can see from our front windows.  

Another thumb through the book landed me at a photo of one of the nearby glens, which answered one of the nature questions that I’ve been wondering about for almost a year now. The horizontal white stripes on the maple trees that I keep noticing, that give the effect of light beams shining through the forest, or make it look like this is Tigger’s section of the Hundred Acre Wood, are in fact a type of lichenized fungus- Comma lichen Arthonia.

 I’m giddy with the excitement of the connections that have been made. I gleefully anticipate the many more connections that are sure to come as we dive further into the natural history of our area and cultivate this sense of place. …and hopefully join Mr. Lange on one of his hikes.

Lange ends his prologue by saying, “Evermore, I have come to appreciate the musings of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: ‘If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?’ ”

Heather Suemnicht

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Far the Little Candle Throws His Beams: Resources for The Merchant of Venice

What Shakespeare play has the most spit flying?  Is the most controversial?  Is the most popular play in Israel? *

And that is how I greeted my students in our TBG Community at the beginning of last semester as we began the Merchant of Venice (MOV)!  It was the second time in 10 years that I would  teach it.
And let's face it, having another daughter embrace Portia and memorize the "Quality of Mercy" speech is ... priceless.
Lizzie as Portia

I decided that this time, our community was going to do something extra-special; we were going to write a book.  I assigned each and every scene of the play to a different student or mom (yes, the moms in our community fully participate!) Then, when we came together at our bimonthly meetings, whoever was assigned a scene from that week's readings would share their narration. At the end of the semester, all the narrations were gathered into a book by Lizzie and submitted to a book making company.  The wonderful result is this book:

It has everyone's narrations plus the photos from our Family Night presentation of the courtroom scene of Act IV, Scene 1.  The cover artwork was delightfully done by Kenneth Benson.

When I first taught this play, I ordered an edited version of the movie that stars Al Pacino as Shylock. It was a great investment and we enjoyed many clips of this beautiful production in our meetings. (The company was called Family Edited DVDs but I'm not sure they are around anymore.) The 1973 movie with Laurence Olivier looked more like Dark Shadows set in Victorian England than Shakespeare, so that wasn't an option for me.

Usury, ghettos, anti-Semitism, true Christianity - all these things made for rich conversations and a fuller understanding of life.  That's what Shakespeare does.

 Let me outline what we do for Shakespeare in our community. We meet for 6 times a semester, every other week.  So as the teacher, the schedule looks like this:

Meeting #1 - Introduce the play, pass out the books, cover sheet, cds. Give assignment for meeting #2 - read, listen, narrate Act 1 at home, make one commonplace entry.  Those with the special assignment of a scene narration should bring their narration to the next meeting to share.

Meeting #2 - everyone shares their commonplace entry. Short discussion of Act 1. Special assignments to be shared. Short activity (showing a clip of a scene for Act 1 or Act 2, sometimes a reading where everyone takes a part, etc.) Give assignment for meeting #3 - read/listen/narrate to Act 2, one cp entry, special narration assignments.

And so on!

In our TBG Community, we often distribute what I call a "cover sheet" when we begin a new play.  Below is my cover sheet for The Merchant of Venice.  Sometimes it is just a picture with the name, sometimes it has dates, and here you can see I included a character chart.

You can read more of my Shakespeare posts with helps here. Scroll down to the section "Shakespeare in our Community".

Are you doing a few Shakespeare plays this school year?  I hope so!


* from The Friendly Shakespeare by Epstein

The full quote from the title is a favorite - "How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world." - Portia

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Story of Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition

I am excited to share with you Nicole Handfield's story about the new book, Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition! As I mentioned earlier in this post, on July 7th Nicole presented this project at the Living Education Retreat which consisted of the book and the two high-quality prints (one 8 x 11 and one 18 x 20 with principle 20 written beneath it) by an Italian photographer. While the book may be small in stature, the ideas presented are Mason's mightiest.

Nicole and I sharing at the LER

The Story of Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition, edited by Nicole Handfield

The story of how this book on the Great Recognition came to be is inextricably linked to the Great Recognition itself. When Charlotte Mason explained that the Holy Spirit is our children's indefatigable teacher, who will teach them (and us) all things, this recognition turned my secular/spiritual dichotomy on its head, opening my eyes to the more intimate involvement of God in our lives than I had previously considered. And so, I can say in all honesty, the making of this book is really the work of the Holy Spirit, who put the silly-sounding idea of publishing a book into my head and then actually made it happen. I can say with full confidence that it wasn't me pushing the project because I am completely unqualified for such an endeavor and frankly didn't even know where to begin. And yet, every single piece literally fell into place, because God was orchestrating the whole thing. 

It all began about a year ago on a date night with my husband when he brought up the idea of taking a family vacation to Italy. He wanted to experience traditional Neopolitan wood-fired pizza, but I wanted to see for myself the fresco that Charlotte Mason described when she discussed the Great Recognition.

In the Cholmondeley biography of Charlotte Mason, I read how Charlotte had a reproduction of the frescoes hanging in a prominent place at the House of Education so that it could serve as a daily inspiration for the teachers in training. I really wanted to have something like that in my home, to remind me daily that the Holy Spirit is the real teacher in our homeschool. I thought you could find anything on the world wide web! However, when I tried to find an image online of the fresco, I could only find the ceiling vault and the wall fresco separately. Because of the shape of the inside of the Spanish Chapel, the dimensions of the frescoes are not the same and photoshopping the images together wouldn't produce a nice, frame-able image.

When I finally found myself in Florence looking at the fresco, I spent most of my time trying to get a great photograph of the two parts (wall and ceiling) in one shot. However, my camera was not able to overcome the limitations of the limited interior lighting and my inferior photography skills. So I did not get the beautiful photograph I wanted.

After we got home from Italy, I really felt that more Christian educators needed to hear this message. I wished that there was a book containing Charlotte Mason's discussion of the Great Recognition Required of Parents as well as John Ruskin's discussion of the fresco (which Charlotte read on her own trip to see the Florentine fresco). And it would be great if it could have photographs of the fresco as well. Of course, I still wanted a nice, frame-able shot of the fresco for my own wall at home.

I felt the Holy Spirit whisper that maybe I should make the book that didn't yet exist. I had plenty of reasons why I was not the person to take on this task. Besides the fullness of my plate in this season of mothering littles and literally knowing nothing about publishing a book, I wasn't even sure that I knew enough about Charlotte Mason and this concept to correctly describe it in a book.
I later attended the Grace to Build Retreat and found myself sitting next to Nancy Kelly at breakfast on the last day when I brought up my idea for this book. She said it was a great idea and told me she'd put me in contact with a publisher. And that was the beginning of this crazy project that involved the hiring of multiple professionals (including a professional photographer to get that beautiful image of the fresco) who put together this lovely book. I asked Art Middlekauff and Nancy Kelly to contribute chapters to the book as well, and I'm so pleased with their additional insights into this important foundation of Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy.

I earnestly pray that this book is a blessing to all who read it and that we can all be inspired and encouraged by the living ideas it contains. 

Nicole Handfield

*The first printing of the book is sold out.  A second printing will be coming this fall. Riverbend Press  will be taking preorders for the art prints. The only other place to to get the books or prints will be this September at the Weekend of Living Ideas Retreat or this October at the Delightful Living Seminar or Grace to Build Retreat.

These two look rather sweet next to each other!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Conversazione 2016 - Our Three-Fold Cord (with audio)

Image used by permission from the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection, Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada
My Conversazione at the 2016 LER was based on an amazing document by Charlotte Mason. I have typed it in its entirety below for you to enjoy.  Also, here is my Prezi presentation, as well as the beautiful House of Education certificate (above) with which we did a modified picture study. Regarding Roman numeral II, a more detailed post will be coming with the new book Nicole Handfield edited, Charlotte Mason and the Great Recognition, and the stunning new prints of the complete fresco that will soon be available. Also, I have posted the audio below. (First time I've embedded an audio here!)  Please note that there were quiet spots where we examined the certificate that have been eliminated. You will also hear Nicole tell a little bit about her book and how it came to be.

Our Three-Fold Cord was a leaflet presented to students graduating from her House of Education. Essex Cholmondeley (Chum-lee) states, "Perhaps the most life-giving ideas that the students received were the three which form 'The Threefold Cord,' a short leaflet given to each student on leaving college." (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 156)

What were these "life-giving ideas"? Well, that's what I set out to explain in the talk.  I think you will enjoy reading the document for yourself and exploring these life-giving ideas.







We read in the Purgatorio, Canto I., how Virgil was directed to prepare Dante for his difficult ascent:

“Go, then, and see thou gird this one about

With a smooth rush, and that thou wash his face,

So that thou cleanse away all stain therefrom.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

This little island round about its base,

Below there, yonder where the billow beats it,

Doth rushes bear upon its washy ooze;

No other plant that putteth forth the leaf,

Or that doth indurate, can there have life,

Because it yieldeth not unto the shocks.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

Then came we down upon the desert shore.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .

There he begirt me as the other pleased;

O marvellous! For even as he culled

The humble plant, such it sprang up again

Suddenly there where he uprooted it.”  (Longfellow’s Translation).

Here we get the idea of the yielding rush incapable alike of selfassertion and of receiving the wounds and scars of mortification. The waves that beat upon the desert shores are the waves of our badge, and remind us of the “waves of this troublesome world.” We look for the scriptural origins of Dante’s thought – how St. Peter says, in his First Epistle, “Yea, all of you, gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another;” and we recollect that St. Peter had seen the pattern of the Divine Humility girding Himself for lowest service on the last night of His human life. Let us read the Divine Law about humility (St. Luke xxii., 24-29); together with the saying of William Law, “There never was nor ever will be but one humility in the whole world, and that is the one humility of Christ.” In St. Matthew xviii., 1-7, we read how or Lord Himself recognizes the little children as also “humble” 9because of His own indwelling); perhaps the offence against children, of which such terrible condemnation is spoken, is to offend against their humility in such a way as to make them lose this Chirst-like quality. Consider what humility is; it is not relative but absolute; it does not mean that we shall think small things of ourselves compared with this one and that, but that we shall have eyes so steadfastly fixed upon our Master, our duty, our sphere of service, that we shall have no moment left in which to think of ourselves at all – a most blessed way to escape all wounds, and wrongs, and injuries, and bitter mortifications. We consider that the Rush is our most appropriate badge, because, though humility is binding upon every Christian person, it is most especially so upon those who are called to feed His lambs, the lambs whom He has Himself declared to be “humble,” like unto Him. 

            We see, too, how well our motto- “For the children’s sake”-a chance phrase in a letter from our Lady Visitor-expresses the sentiment of our Badge. “For their sakes I sanctify Myself,” said our Master.


            Mr. Ruskin has done a great service to modern thought in interpreting for us the harmonious and ennobling scheme of education and philosophy recorded upon one quarter of what he calls the “Vaulted Book,”* i.e., the Spanish Chapel attached to the Church of Sta. Maria Novella, in Florence.

            “The descent of the Holy Ghost is on the left hand (of the roof) as you enter. The Madonna and Disciples are gathered in an upper chamber: underneath are the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc., who hear them speak in their own tongues. Three dogs are in the foreground – their mythic purpose, to mark the share of the lower animals in the gentleness given by the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ .    .    .    .    .    . On this and the opposite side of the Chapel are represented by Simon Memmi’s hand, the teaching power of the Spirit of God and the saving poser of the Christ of God in the world, according to the understanding of Florence in his time.

            “We will take the side of intellect first. Beneath the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit in the point of the arch beneath are the three Evangelical Virtues.  Without these, says Florence, you can have no science. Without Love, Faith, and Hope – no intelligence. Under these are the four Cardinal Virtues .    .    .    .    .Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude. Under these are the great Prophets and Apostles.    .    .    .    . Under the line of Prophets, as powers summoned by their voices are the mythic figures of the seven theological or spiritual and the seven geological or natural sciences; and under the feet of each of them the figure of its Captain-teacher to the world

Our immediate concern is with the seven mythic figures representing the natural sciences, and with the figure of the Captain-teacher of each. First we have Grammar, a gracious figure teaching three Florentine children; and, beneath, Priscian. Next, Rhetoric, strong, calm, and cool; and below the figure of Cicero with a quiet beautiful face. Next, Logic, with perfect pose of figure and lovely face; and beneath her, Aristotle-intense keenness of search in his half closed eyes. Next, Music, with head inclined in intent listening to the sweet and solemn strains she is producing from her antique instrument; and underneath, Tubal Cain, not Jubal, as the inventor of harmony-perhaps the most marvelous record that Art has produced of the impact of a great idea upon the soul of a man but semi-civilised. Astronomy succeeds, with majestic brow and upraised hand, and below her, Zoroaster, exceedingly beautiful-“the delicate Persian head made softer still by the elaborately wreathed silken hair.” Next Geometry, looking down, considering some practical problem, and her carpenter’s square in her hand, and below her, Euclid. And lastly Arithmetic, holding two fingers up in the act of calculating, and under her, Pythagoras wrapped in the science of number.

The Florentine mind of the middle ages believed not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct out-pouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music, was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired named himself by the name of God, or recognized whence his inspiration came.

And what subjects are under the direction of this Divine Teacher? The child’s faith and hope and charity-that we already knew; his temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude-that we might have guessed; his grammar, rhetoric, logic, music astronomy, geometry, arithmetic-this we might have forgotten, if these Florentine teachers had not reminded us; his practical skill in the use of tools and instruments, from a knife and fork to a microscope, and in the sensible management of all the affairs of life-these also come from the Lord, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. His God doth instruct him and doth teach him. Recognising that “his God” doth co-operate with us in the act of giving knowledge to a child, we approach the work of teaching with simplicity, sincerity and reverence.


            Students are usually anxious to correct their own impressions by some words from the artist as to the meaning of his work. The following is the reply of H. Wilson, Esq., the artist who designed the beautiful certificate. (Mrs. Dallas Yorke’s generous gift to the House of Education), to the numerous students who have asked for an explanation of the design: -

“The subject is, of course, that of Education. The stream figures the stream of knowledge, the river of mental life flowing from beneath the foundations of the temple of the spirit in the middle distance.  The temple is circular, symbolizing completeness and enduringness: above its altar is a lamp typifying the sun, the source of physical life; the dome symbolizes the heavens, and round the frieze are signs of the Zodiac. Behind the temple rugged mountains thrust their peaks into the sky, the top of the tallest passes beyond the picture to suggest that the highest peak is the unattainable – the ideal, and moreover, that the ends of knowledge are hidden – that while we may grasp a few threads, the end of the skein is beyond our reach. In the foreground Psyche clothed with knowledge and winged is seated. She is just embracing one of a group of children, to suggest that love is the inspiring and all-important agency in Education, only at its touch does the birth of the soul begin. This inspiring, inspiriting, inbreathing of the conscious soul is shadowed forth by the butterflies hovering round the children’s heads. The figures themselves are seated on a little eminence; beneath it is a little beach on which the children are playing, some with shells, others with insects, with plants and flowers, or with animals, to suggest that in play each child follows its own natural bent, and gives not only a clue to its character, but valuable indices of the right way of treating and educing the best side of that character. The border shows the tree of knowledge, with children playing in the branches; above, in the initial letter, is seated the mistress instructing her pupils; below are shown the roots of the tree knowledge among the rocks, with flowers growing everywhere; on the left are the battlements of the city which endures.”

The chief danger, in designing such a certificate, is to keep down a natural tendency to allegorize to excess, and to make, instead, as much as possible of the opportunity for a piece of pleasant decoration. In the contriving of this the various ideas summarized above arose, and I attempted to give them fitting expression.     H.W.