Monday, May 23, 2016

Hazel Stellamaris


The hazel is a deciduous tree common in the Northern hemisphere and especially important in the British Isles.

The Perindens Tree.:

Trees hold nearly universal significance across cultures, symbolizing life, redemption, kinship and tradition, wisdom, sustenance, shelter.

In the Christian tradition we find the Tree of Life, the Tree of Jesse, the Rood--all images intertwined, enriching each-other, all speaking of life in Christ and in the Church, life blossoming, producing fruit, Life in abundance.

In medieval European consciousness the hazel tree was associated with water: frequently found planted around holy wells and places of spiritual significance.

“And she shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth her fruit in season; her leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever she doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:3

Medieval pilgrims, especially in the British Isles, carried staffs made of hazel wood. These staffs symbolized the life of grace, pilgrimage, and were often buried with their owners.

Book of Hours, MS M.19 fol. 165v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum:

St. Patrick, it is said, expelled the snakes from Ireland using a rod of hazel.

An old pious legend claims that it was a hazel tree that sheltered the Holy Family on their flight to Egypt.


Stella Maris, Star of the Sea,” is an ancient title of the Virgin Mary.

Love […] is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
                                                                 Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Stella Maris, the “sea-star” is another name of the star Polaris, also called the “lodestar” or “steering star” because, since ancient times, mariners have used it for navigation at sea.

In Christian tradition Mary becomes the “lodestar” of the Church: the light that guides us to our ultimate destination, the “true North”: Christ.

In the 12th century St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: “If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Back on Wise Road

Dear Blog.

It has been a long, long time. The fact that you exist still on the internets has haunted me for almost a year now. But I needed a bit of a break--from the blog and, if truth be told, from the farmhouse on Wise Road as well. 

Things were tough at the farmhouse for a long time. Devin and I have been humbled, truly, discovering just limited our renovation knowledge and abilities truly are. Every trip up to Wise Road seemed to be fraught with peril, anxiety, and an inevitable disaster of one kind of another. The sunsets were stunning, the quiet mornings awe-inspiring, but the days between were hard. Overwhelming.

So last Fall we made a decision. 

Some friends of ours introduced us to a wonderful family of missionaries, back in KC between assignments. Mark and Lora were living with family but looking for a little bit more space for their kids. Mark, a talented contractor, was looking for some renovation work. 

Would Mark and Lora, we wondered, be interested in living at the farmhouse and helping us finish the work we found we were unable to do? We offered them the house and the work and they accepted. 

I can say without a doubt that having Mark and Lora's family up at Wise Road has been the best decision we have made to date. They are a family filled with joy. Their children truly enjoyed roaming free on the beautiful land and taught our kids how to interact and enjoy a hitherto intimidating landscape. Just having their happy, holy family in the house completely changed the feeling of the place, like all our own anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion had been driven out.

Beyond this--let me just say that Mark is magical. He is a talented and resourceful worker, I can hardly remember all of the things that were wrong with the house that Mark put right. In the first week after they moved in he had disposed of our resident pack rat, who was living under our kitchen and causing no end of expensive and disgusting damage. Little things that had somehow overwhelmed us he fixed: Ikea cabinets that were misinstalled, cracks in floors that weren't repaired by the floor people, patching that the contractors left, window shades that I had funked. All these things Mark fixed. 

And then the real work began. Mark tore off our "third bedroom" (i.e. nasty, stinky, rotting lean-to) and used salvaged wood to rebuild it into an *actual* bedroom with a closet and AMAZING built-in bunks and a mudroom with a utility sink and (heated!) stone floor:



After that Mark built our amazing front porch, complete with tongue and groove floor, Haint Blue ceiling and outlets *specifically* for Christmas light installation. As if this wasn't enough Mark and his kids found huge pieces of limestone around the property and dragged them, Stonehenge style, to the front of the house and built them into stone steps. One of these pieces is probably 7x7 feet across and an 18 inches thick. It must weigh a thousand pounds. I have no idea how they moved that piece of stone.

I can hardly remember all the things that Mark and his family have done on the property. They have cut down trees, removed underbrush, planted and pruned fruit trees. They sealed and insulated the underside of our drafty old hardwood floor, installed a new washer and dryer, chopped firewood. The list goes on and on!'

In March Mark and Lora finished the project and we have, once again, taken possession of the house on Wise Road. We celebrated with barbeque, a bonfire and a house blessing.

Now Devin and I are ready to give the Wise Road another go--and I hope I can find time to get back to the blog as well! 

A lot is going on these days! Not least a NEW BABY, who I will introduce in the near future! In addition to THAT (!!) this year will mark the first year of official homeschooling in our house. I have so much to share about our kindergarten year (now complete) and my hopes and plans for the next year! 

So till I find time to sit down once again at the computer I will leave you with sunset on Wise Road.

Monday, May 11, 2015

We Do Not Know How Children Learn. (So how do we teach?)

The Tree of Knowledge

A while back I wrote a post on how children learn. Or rather, our ignorance as to how children learn. Because no one really understands how it happens (and it does...happens). One thing we do know: learning cannot be coerced.

As the old saying goes: you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. In the same way, we can bring a child to the lip of the “Pierian spring” but we cannot make her “drink deep.” We cannot force a child to learn.

Because the child has free will; the child is a person.

This is the first principle of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. But another of her principles is equally important. It is that the child is equipped, suited, in fact, created to learn.

For the mind of a child is “a spiritual organism, with an appetite for knowledge.” And knowledge is “its proper diet.”

I think sometimes it would be helpful for us to remember that story by Kipling about the Elephant’s Child, who was full of “ ‘satiable curiosity.” Or we could just recall the four-year-old living in our own home. Elephants’ children, and human children also, are hungry, ravenous, starving for knowledge. They want to know why, where, how, when, what. They want to hear stories. They want to look at pictures. They want to know what is in the dirt. They want to know how to draw a nose. They want to know what sound the vase makes if you drop it down the stairs. You don’t have to “teach” a small child. You merely have to let them play, let look at books, talk to them, read to them, answer their questions. They are hungry and knowledge is their “proper diet.”

According to Charlotte Mason, this hunger is the first tool of a good educator. It means that the educator doesn’t have to resort to those commonly used tools of education which encroach upon the child’s free will, namely “fear, love, suggestion, influence or undue play upon natural desire.” It means you don’t HAVE to threaten or cajole with the promise of reward or penalty, you don’t have to give grades (gasp!). The child will want to know what kind of animals lives in Kenya/what happens at the end of the story/how Monet painted the water-lilies even without the threat/promise of grades.
In fact, grades can distract/dilute this natural hunger. The child begins to think she should learn about poetry/history/etc.  so she can get a grade, rather than because these things are worth knowing. The natural hunger is compromised. Sometimes it is lost altogether.   

This might be as good a time as any for me to say this: Charlotte Mason was not a proponent of “unschooling.” I am not a proponent of unschooling. Charlotte Mason advocated for a broad and rigorous curriculum. She expected excellence from even the youngest pupils. She expected her students to perform tasks with “perfect execution.”

But how can an educator expect these things (and get them!) without the use of the above listed forbidden tools (fear, love, suggestion…play upon natural desires), without grades, bribes, threats, etc?

As I suggest above, the natural hunger for knowledge does much of the work—if left intact.

But there are, according to Mason, three legitimate “instruments of education” available to the educator. These are:

1. Atmosphere or Environment

2. Discipline or Habit


3. The Presentation of Living Ideas

In the next few weeks I will try to explore each of these "instruments," and try to understand how I might implement them in my own home-life and home-school. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real on Wise Road


Against all odds, I installed shelves in the kitchen. They are "crafted" from "reclaimed" "barn-wood." That sounds so Pinterest-worthy, urban homesteading sophisticated, right? But don't get too excited. Note the sarcasti-quotes. When I say "reclaimed" I mean "pried from the walls with a crowbar and scraped down with a shovel to get rid of the hornets nests." And when I say "barn" I mean "the old shed covered in corrugated iron where we keep the tractor lawnmower." (We don't have a tractor, much to my husband's chagrin. If we DID have a tractor it wouldn't fit in the "barn.") Livin' the dream.

But still. The wood, once I sanded it down and oiled it was...pretty! And after a trip to Home Depot to pick up some metal brackets, we have some nearly free shelves. And they are (once again) pretty, yes?


The happiest thing about Wise Road is the evening. The light is gorgeous, slanting in, everything turns gold, even the long weeds grass that we didn't get around to mowing (again).

We are trying to take advantage of the lovely spring weather and (relative) absence of bugs by enjoying the following outdoor activities: mowing, making campfires, mowing, eating s'mores, mowing, eating dinner outside, and mowing. Hattie and Hugo are entranced by my fire-building skilz.

Hugo would not relinquish this smashed marshmallow, even to eat it.

Devin rigged up this old (what the heck IS is?) pallet thingy that someone used to keep firewood on...or now we have a table outside, which has improved our life by approximately 28%.

And I am finally getting the hang of getting meals prepared out here, thanks, in part, to a working stove and a trip to Ikea. Mealtime has gotten a bit more civilized.

Of course i this picture you can't see the plastic silverware or the power tools which were also on the table. Never ignore what is just outside of the frame!


With all the reclaiming of barn-wood and sewing of curtains (stay tuned) I have been a bit distracted from child-related duties. Usually while I am working the kids are outside, engaged in some wholesome countrified activity--like playing with barbed wire and broken glass. KIDDING! Usually their just digging in the dirt with sticks (why? what do your kids do all day?). But the other day Hattie got into my car and found my makeup. She was there for a while.

Here she is just before I decanted her into the bath. The photo unfortunately doesn't do justice to her artistry or adequately capture the gallons of foundation on her skin and clothing.


I bought a sewing machine.

I didn't exactly intend to buy a sewing machine, but I was at Ikea. You know? Come on, I know you've had this experience. It's like this. You are in Ikea. You have been in Ikea for more time than you would like to admit, weaving back and forth through tastefully modern kitchens and sleek bedrooms. You actually don't know exactly how long you have been there, you don't, in fact, know if it is day or night Outside because *there are no windows!*. Both of your children have reached The End and are throwing epic tantrums. (Yes, those were my children.) You just pried the four-year-old from the floor for the tenth time. The two-year-old is about to make another desperate escape attempt into the basket, box, and random container department. Your ability to think rationally left you back where you buy wall-mount shelves. You start to look at objects you didn't even know were Things and think: "Wow, this Enudden Toilet Roll Holder and Magazine Stand is so cool! How could I have survived this long without a toilet roll holder that incorporates a MAGAZINE STAND! And it's so cheap!"

So, when I saw a shiny new sewing machine I bought it (obviously!!).

"What are you going to do with a sewing machine?" Devin asked me once we were safely back in our car with all our stuff and the still-screaming progeny. Suddenly I was swept away in grand delusions: With my new sewing machine I was going to become a Truly Accomplished Woman, I would sew all of my children's clothes, I would make ties for my husband to coordinate with feast days and liturgical seasons, I would craft elegantly austere tunics for myself from organic linen. ...

"Why don't you start with some curtains," he replied.

And so I did. And let me just say this: Sewing machines: SO complicated, okay? I had NO idea how many pieces and steps and tiny movements were required. It took FOREVER just to find the bobbin (I didn't even know what a bobbin WAS!). It took HOURS of fiddling before I finally sewed a stitch. And then I had to stop: because I had sewed the edge of the curtain to the middle of the curtain. It was awesome.

But I did it. I sewed some curtains. And they don't look too bad.

(Of course I forgot to take pictures so have no documented proof.)

This post is linked to Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real at Auntie Leila's blog!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Garden

"The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river. Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known.

But...the garden did not start out as metaphor. It started out as a paradise. Then, as now, the garden is about life and beauty and the impermanence of all living things. The garden is about feeding your children, providing food for the tribe... And what a wonderful relief every so often to know who the enemy is--because in the garden, the enemy is everything: the aphids, the weather, time. And so you pour yourself into it, care so much, and see up close so much birth and growth and beauty and danger and triumph--and then everything dies anyway, right? But you just keep doing it."

                                                                                            Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

May is a good time in the garden. The seeds I planted have come up, and the seedlings have yet to be desecrated by heat, drought, or varmints. The mesquitos haven't appeared, so we spend a lot of time outside. The things I planted last year surprised me by surviving til this year. Our grape vine luxuriates; I'm sure Bacchus holds midnight revels beneath the arbor. A pair of robins is nesting in the pergola. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Farmhouse Update: Spring Cometh

I apologize for the previous (wordless) post, though I hope you enjoyed the pretty pictures. So much has happened and we have been so busy and I have been so exhausted that I just couldn't muster up anything except...pretty pictures.

Needless to say, since this post the situation at Wise Road has improved. The last absolutely necessary changes and repairs were made. A new electrician fixed the horrible mistakes of the Dude. A plumber (like, an ACTUAL plumber) hooked up the sinks and toilet (yes!) with relatively little incident. Things weren't perfect with our new set of workers. They fixed some things, but not to our standard of quality/neatness. They left a big mess. We are pretty convinced that we will have to call in Kansas City workers for future work and pay them the big bucks. We have become just a wee bit disillusioned with the standards out here in the country. Sigh.

But, one way or another, the work was finished enough for us to "move in." Devin and I went up without the kids and filled an ENTIRE dumpster with the trash that various workers had piled on our back porch. And trash that had blown off the back porch all over the meadows and down into the woodland. And trash that had been left in every room of the house. We worked for a good two days, clearing, sweeping, scrubbing, vacuuming. There was a lot of dust, a lot of mouse droppings, and a lot of bleach used. I almost asphyxiated myself by mixing two cleaning solutions't supposed to come into contact. One should always read warning labels.

After all this the house began to look like a house. We actually ate dinner in the kitchen! We made a little campfire and watched the stars! We actually slept in our bedroom.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The trim was left with primer alone and nail holes, so...more filling and painting. We still haven't replaced the drawer in the kitchen that the Dude misplaced. We still haven't fit the dish washer with its matching white front.

A lot of the remaining work should be fun and exciting. It's mostly decorating, finishing now. We are going to build open shelves in the kitchen from wood salvaged from the barn.The hollow-core front door will be replaced with a solid door with a window (the view out this side of the house is beautiful). The chairs will get new cushions (no, orange was not the original plan). I am going to make some curtains. We will get a local carpenter to build us a new table (the one we are using is usually on our front porch and is a bit too weathered for indoor use). Bookshelves will be installed. We'll swap the bare bulbs for some interesting overhead lights. There will be wallpaper on the huge blank wall in the kitchen (I'm excited about that one!). And the list goes on.

But there is a place to sleep. (Here is Hattie's little nook. We are hoping to build bookshelves around her bed, kind of like this.)

There's a place to bathe and...powder one's nose.

Outside is much the same. An almost infinite amount of work to be done. For instance, here is my garden:

Since this picture was taken we planted a row of onions and some pumpkins, just "to see." But next year (or the year after that) will bring a total overhaul.

The fruit trees are in bad need of major pruning and I have NO IDEA where to begin. There are a few venerable pears that still bear... But what do I do? Any ideas??

There is plenty of room for dreams, plans, failure and success. But for now I am content: a place to sleep. A place to be quiet. Every time we are there I am struck again by the quiet. And the darkness: how dark it is at night, how lonesome. It's wonderful.