Friday, December 27, 2013

Reflections of an Odd Year

Like my friend, Amy in Peru, I prefer doing reflections at the end of the year instead of resolutions at the beginning. I spend more time blogging the resolution of my camera, which captured the lovely reflection of sunshine on Lake Warnock to the right, than I do blogging New Year's resolutions. In fact, not one post talks about them!

I have noticed a distinct pattern in the past decade of my life. The oddest things happen in odd years: major changes of job for Steve (necessitating a move), amazing projects landing in my lap or dwindling away, switching churches (not often I am glad to say). Some of the most surprising shifts that I could not have predicted in a million years (and, yet, God knew all along) happen in odd years.

The year 2013 was no exception. Some things, I have already shared. At the beginning of the year, I had no idea that two friends and I would found a school based upon a Charlotte Mason style of education. God clearly had been carefully laying plans for years, but He did not bother to tell us until June. Watching Pamela integrate into a class (more on that in another post), helping other families with autism, and seeing children get excited about the world makes the hard work worth it. It also keeps me busy when Steve is working in Kansas (and started working there in 2011—another odd year).

While it stinks that eleven hundred miles separate us from Steve, we are enjoying being able to see so many wonderful things on the long trips back and forth as regular readers of this blog know. This time, we are doing something different and, as my friend Di points out, change gives our older children with autism a chance to think and become resilient. Steve scored uber cheap tickets, so Pamela and I are flying back to South Carolina. What luxury!

About a week before we were due to drive to Kansas, Pamela realized that the babies could not come. She has flown enough to see the disadvantages of hauling five babies through TSA. She asked her brother David, who planned to stay home and rack up some overtime, to babysit for her. She also told me she could only carry one backpack, instead of two or three or four. Since we are without typical schooling materials, Pamela texted the following to Steve, a week after our arrival: "I am getting journel, pencil, chip, hamburger, pickles and coke cola."

Two things I loved about Pamela's mindfulness: (1) she spotted the problem and solved it and (2) she shared her plan with me. If your child in the spectrum struggles with being mindful, Di came up with two important questions and changes you might want to try: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? The poster she created summarizes what has helped Pamela learn to think for herself.

Some exciting changes have been brewing all year, but I cannot share them until January 2014. Years are like road trips. You never know what is going to happen along the way. Steve and I took turns driving through two weather fronts on the long trek from Carolina to Kansas. We left pleasant, sunny weather in Carolina. While going through Kentucky, we discovered that the weather app on his phone makes a loud noise when severe weather alerts are issued. A tornado watch and flash flood accompanied the heavy rainfall. The next day, we saw vehicles, askew in odd positions with parts flung every which way, on the icy leg from St. Louis to mid Missouri. [Notice how I subtly worked in another photograph of a reflection.]

Since the ice storm had already blown through, the road conditions were better than we had expected. When we stopped for coffee on the icy section of the trip, we spotted thick layers of ice, coating the branches of the tree. As we headed to Kansas City, the precipitation shifted to six inches of snow. The ginormous Angus cow statue sported an icicle goatee and a white blanket. The temperature on Planet Hoth was a brutal ten degrees and simply getting out of the car sucked the breath out of me.

At sunset, about a half hour from Steve's place, the Missouri river bridge leading to Kansas offered a neat view. Wave upon wave of black birds flew over us. The procrastinating geese that had gotten caught in the frigid weather traveled in their V-formation.

What surprised us most was how uneventful the drive was in spite of all the wide and varied road and weather conditions. The smooth journey ended at Steve's place. The landlord had failed to have the neighborhood and public parking areas plowed. In eleven hundred miles of traveling across half of our country, we nearly got stuck in the driveway when we backed out to make a supply run.

God sure has a sense of humor!
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?
Job 38:22-27

Friday, December 13, 2013

Peacefully Guided

In God's wisdom, our Sunday school class read Isaiah 55 last week. Reading from this Old Testament book of the Bible in the weeks leading up to Christmas is quite appropriate because so many passages foreshadow the coming of Christ.
Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. Isaiah 55:1-3
Many think the goal of education is employment, or working for food that spoils. Jesus knew that life is more important for he said, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you" (John 6:26-27). What kind of work endures? As we head into a new year, we might want to take a breath from busyness and consider what work brings light and life into the lives of others.

Last Friday, we read Tennyson's "The Dying Swan," so today, we discussed our poem for recitation ("The Owl") before finishing the last chapter of our science book. One student wondered why Tennyson chose the word hay instead of grass. We ended up talking about the last word in each line and then came the "aha" moment for her. Then, we noted what Tennyson was trying to portray (the owl's view from the belfry). Another student added, "Owls can turn their heads all the way around"—implying how much of the world the bird could see while sitting still. I had not intended this for happen, but the section of the science book that we read included this quote,
Other aircraft are a danger as well. Turbulence from a helicopter can slam an ultralight to the ground. When an army helicopter cut in front of Mark south of Numidia, he had a few anxious moments before he knew he was safe. As for swans—they can hit the plane. Mark says, "You have to know where the birds are all the time and be ready to dodge every second. I need an owl’s head so I can turn to see directly behind me."
Everyone's eyes lit up. We were all amazed that an accidental pairing between poem and science book had happened twice in a row! Accident, or whisper from God?

Education is life. A mind awakened to beauty and truth in the world God created. A soul seeking His presence. A person who cares enough to ask, who longs to know.
Pay attention and come to Me; listen, so that you will live. Seek the Lord while He may be found; call to Him while He is near. Isaiah 55:6

In this busy season, we find it hard to pay attention and come to the Lord. Yet, the only way to live is to seek Him and pay attention. This habit is hard to come by in this screen-infested world. Getting outdoors and seeing what God created with His own voice is one way to practice the habit of attention, especially when we are quiet and still. Nearly everyone in our walking group passed this katydid without noticing it. The student who found it explained, "I just saw this tiny bit of green. Everything is so brown right now that green just pops!" She has been walking this trail for almost a year and a half, which helped her develop the habit of attention.

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways." [This is] the Lord's declaration. "For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." For just as rain and snow fall from heaven, and do not return there without saturating the earth, and making it germinate and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it [to do]. Isaiah 55:8-11
Some friends are facing a season of rain and snow because of heartbreaking challenges in life, due to no fault of their own, beyond their ability to change or control. The extreme and exhausting behaviors of puberty on top of autism. Sitting at the bedside of dear ones in the hospital. Waiting in the emergency room watching your child in pain. In the long winter nights of cold, hope is hard to see. God's ways and thoughts are hard to understand when things appear bleak. Somehow, even after tears saturate the earth, God provides and His will is done. Narnia will thaw; it always does. Spring is always around the bend, whether the bend is in this lifetime or the eternal one.

You will indeed go out with joy and be peacefully guided; the mountains and the hills will break into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap [their] hands. Instead of the thornbush, a cypress will come up, and instead of the brier, a myrtle will come up; it will make a name for the Lord as an everlasting sign that will not be destroyed. Isaiah 55:12-13

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Poetry for Its Own Sake

A few weeks ago, I copied the following entry from The Living Page in my commonplace book.
When my aunt gave me a poster for the back of my bedroom door so that I regularly fell asleep to Emily Dickinson's avowal, "or help one fainting robin into his nest again" no moral imperative needed to accompany it. I knew that Love notices. I knew already what the "poor robin" looked like.
Because the elementary class at Harvest studied Dickinson last term, I shared the quote with them. A deep magic began.

Two students recited "or help one fainting robin into his nest again" as I read it. Then, they begged to recite the whole poem "If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking." Half the class joined in the group recitation. One student stood up, announced with dramatic flair, "Let me say it alone," and recited it from memory in a crisp, joyful voice.

One student confessed, "When we did exams last week, Mrs. Tammy let me say only one poem. I wanted to do them all."

Another chimed in, "Me, too!" A third said, "Let's do it now."

The class recited three more Dickinson poems en masse: "Hope," "I'm Nobody," and "Autumn." I saw smiles beaming from the large table around which the students gathered.

We turned to the term's poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. One boy asked why we were not reading Dickinson. He seemed a bit sad! We sailed into new territory, and I recited a new poem, "The Eagle." They quickly spotted alliteration in "He clasps the crag with crook hands, close to the sun in lonely lands."

The first time they studied alliteration required attentiveness and thinking. I wrote several examples from Dickinson's poem "Forbidden Fruit" and asked them to spot the pattern. To prevent one person from robbing another of the opportunity to discover, each student had to come to me and whisper what they noticed. The class was delighted to work out the definition for themselves:
  • forbidden fruit
  • hopeless hang
  • color on the cruising cloud,
  • the hill, the house
Poetry is rich towards words. We cannot help mining new gems from poems. The students wondered what Tennyson meant by the phrase azure world, so I pointed them toward their knowledge of Spanish. "Azul!" declared one student. "He's talking about the blue sea," exclaimed another. Another opportunity to wonder and think and discover.

On Friday, on a whim that turned out to be a whisper from God, I read "The Dying Swan" to the class. At the end, several students remarked about how sad the poem was. Then, another smiled and concluded, "At least, we know it's in swan heaven." I picked the poem to go with the science book we have been reading all term. Unbeknownst to me in advance, the passages we read included the death of a swan! We all marveled at the unexpected connection, and again, they reiterated, "As least we know it's in swan heaven."

We also assigned the next poem, "The Owl." Pamela and I spent the weekend memorizing the first three lines (yes, I memorize them, too, for my own sake). Pamela struggles with the first line because it lacks articles. The second line comes more easily because the grammar follows the rules. Learning to be flexible with language for the sake of beauty gives her the chance to think dynamically. Since this poem has such a striking rhythm, I have spotlighted rhythm for her to feel why Tennyson leaves out the article the.
When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground.
Adding proper grammar crumbles the meter.
When the cats run home and the light is come,
And the dew is cold upon the ground.
As Law writes in a Parents' Review article about Tennyson,
The first poets were invariably minstrels, and it is still expected of a poet that he should be able to "sing a good song." Nor is this a bad test of poetic faculty. In a song a lack of melody (if I may borrow an illustration from music) cannot be disguised by cunning harmonies or learned orchestration. It is also a test of sincerity: a song makes a direct appeal: we can tell at once if it rings false. Again, we know as soon as we hear it whether our poet is quite spontaneous, or straining himself, forcing the note. As a song writer, Tennyson ranks with the highest.
As we are studying John James Audubon for our artist and birds for nature study to prepare for the Great Backyard Bird Count in February, we will ask them to classify the owl based on the clues in the poem. Several phrases ought to give away habitat: "merry milkmaids," "new-mown hay," "thatch," and the cock singing "his roundelay." "The white owl in the belfry sits" gives it away completely if you ask me.

Students in some schools churn out slipshod didactic cinquains as a scheme to practice their parts of speech—a recent experience for me during a tutoring session last month. The children at Harvest are far more blessed. They get to build memories of sitting with a friend and reciting together for practice... acting out a poem to forge a link to the next line... sharing a poem with a student in another class at lunch... getting to recite a poem as part of their exams...

For more on the teaching of poetry for its own sake, check out this Parents' Review article.