Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Education for Life

The Beautiful of Now @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

This morning I re-read an old article at First Things, A Curriculum of Life. The author asserts that a child’s curriculum should enlarge his current life, not be a self-serving means to an end (diploma, employment). He proposes structuring a curriculum using the “Three L’s”: Logic, Literature, and Love.

"But we must never allow a curriculum for school to replace a curriculum of life; schooling mustn’t take over the education of living. When it does it becomes deeply mis-educative and disenchanting. It robs our children of the present gift of life they have been given by God.

"If—heaven forbid—they die young, I hope they will have lived beautiful lives even in their youth, perhaps even more so than those who survive them."

This reminded me of beautiful discussion this month with my Scholé Sisters, led my my brilliant friend Mindy Pickens. We gathered, about twenty of us, to talk about why we take time to read, take time to contemplate, take time to gather and discuss, when we are busy homeschooling moms with endless to-do lists.

What is the use of spending a year on Hamlet or a year on Flannery O’Connor or a year on Tolkien or a year on Pride and Prejudice (our upcoming year)? What do we have to show for our time? Why should this pursuit take up space in our lives that could be used for something more productive or practical?

Let’s contemplate those questions.

In our modern American culture, we tend to divide pursuits or activities into two categories: productive/useful and pleasurable/wasteful. These two categories often carry a moral designation as well: productive, good; pleasurable, bad.

In some ancient cultures, however, different categories of thinking were used: self-focused/utilitarian and truth-focused/non-utilitarian (pursuits that were worthy in and of themselves and not as the means to an end). These weren't moral designations. Both of them were necessary for life.

The interesting thing about self-focused and truth-focused categories is that they are more fluid than our productive and wasteful categories and it often depends on a person's mindset while doing them. We talked about how monks turned the most routine labor into a means of worship.

We can clean our homes so that we can check that task off our list or we can clean our homes in service of the people we love who live there or visit there.

We can stand and eat a protein bar so that our bodies will function for all of our tasks that day, or we can use our meal time as a time to reflect or practice gratefulness. We can make an artful meal or a beautiful table. We can eat in community with others. We can use a meal to bless our families. There is nothing wrong with fueling our bodies quickly with a protein bar, but there are other ways to make meals and fuel our bodies that are less utilitarian.

One of my friends talked about how shifting her mindset to thinking of all the mundane tasks of motherhood (breaking up fights, cleaning up vomit, carpooling to activities) as truth-seeking and service was instrumental in saving her sanity as a mom to many little children. Those aren't big time-drains that take away from our ability to be productive. They have value beyond what they lead to or produce.

The word "school" itself comes from the word "scholé" which means leisure. In the past, leisure was synonymous with activities that were truth-focused and non-utilitarian. Leisure wasn't the absence of work. It wasn't vacation. It wasn't consumerism. It wasn't non-activity such as sitting in front of the television. It was work that was worthy for its own sake, not as a means to an end (a diploma, a good job, a position in society).

When we say we are pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty in education, we mean that we are learning because truth, goodness, and beauty are worthy pursuits in their own right. Cultivating virtue (self-discipline, commitment, perseverance, compassion, cooperation, patience...) is also a goal of education and an end in itself.

I like the three categories in the article: Logic, Literature, and Love. I can fit all of the Classical Conversations Challenge content into those three categories. I can fit all of it into truth-seeking and true leisure—living a beautiful life now and not as the means to an end.

The difficulty lies in thinking of the curriculum in that way, pursuing it in that way, and especially helping our 8th and 10th grade boys to see it that way, rather than as an obligation, a drudge, a check-list, and a stepping-stone to a diploma, which is a stepping-stone to a good job, which is a stepping-stone to vacations and possessions and savings, which is a stepping-stone to retirement.

I also struggle with habit-forming and teaching my boys and myself to love what we ought and not just what is pleasurable. Virtue formation is hard, and often requires doing something repeatedly until we grow to love it.

So I'm saying all this not to be preachy, but to remind myself (because I forget every minute of every day) what a beautiful education can be. It doesn't have to be CC—absolutely not—and it can (and should) be a tailored version of CC, if that’s the path you’re on, but I believe Challenge is full of logic, literature, and love (and leisure!) that can enlarge our students’ present lives. It happens to be a good fit for us at this time.

Figuring out what a beautiful life looks like for ourselves and our children and our families is always going to require constant prayer and consideration. Implementing it in reality is going to be even more difficult (especially with teen boys). There is no formula. It’s complex and messy and hard and beautiful. It also requires a magnitude of faith.


How can we operate under a truth-seeking mindset rather than a self-focused mindset?

How can we pursue leisure and virtue and truth, goodness, and beauty rather than a utilitarian outcome?

Do our pursuits enlarge our humanity or diminish it?

What skills are we learning? My friend Mindy thinks in skills rather than subjects. Attending, listening, speaking, reading, writing, remembering, and reasoning.

How can we serve others in this pursuit?

Where is the truth, goodness, beauty, and order in what we are viewing and contemplating?

What virtues are we striving toward? Self-discipline, patience, compassion, wonder?

How can we turn this pursuit into truth-seeking or leisure?

How can we practice re-creating in this endeavor rather than consuming?

How can we delight, attend, worship, contemplate, or build relationships in this moment?


Will it help to revisit the “a garden, a museum, a table, a church—which is to say a monastery” metaphor? I think so.

As my friend Sara Masarik said, “A monastery strives to serve with feet on earth and hearts and heads in heaven. And that, I think, is what our homes [our educations, our lives] can be as well.”

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Books for Boys ~ Part 1

Best Books for Boys @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Hello! to those of you joining me from the Storyformed Podcast. Welcome to Mt. Hope Chronicles!

To my regular readers, check out the Storyformed Podcast. Today I’m talking with Holly and Jaime about Favorite Books for Boys.

For newcomers, book recommendations are sprinkled throughout the blog, but you can find most of them at the following links:

Picture Book Picnic
The Reading Child
and Literary Buffet

I’ve been wanting to share more comprehensive lists, and this seems like a good time to start. Favorites lists are always difficult, though. There are so many books to choose from, and I know I’m leaving many great ones off the list.

Part 2, coming soon, will include non-fiction books and book selections for teen boys.

For now, we’ll start with these family favorites!


The Great Mouse Detective by Eve Titus [This is a great easy chapter book series for beginning readers.]

Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith [Dick King-Smith wrote a bunch of wonderful easy chapter books for beginning readers, but Babe is my personal favorite.]

Dominic by William Steig [Many readers are familiar with Steig’s picture books (Amos and Boris is a personal favorite), but few people have read his three short chapter books. Dominic is one of my most favorite children’s books, but The Real Thief and Abel’s Island are wonderful as well. Steig’s vocabulary is incredible.]

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden [This is a delightful story and a favorite from my childhood.]

Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry [This simple chapter book is a historical narrative about the artist Benjamin West’s childhood.]

Freddy the Pig by Walter Brooks [This series about a detective pig is incredibly witty and humorous.]


Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore [Follow along with Little Pear’s adventures and capers in this easy chapter book for beginning readers.]

Hank the Cowdog by John R. Erickson [This series is hilarious. The audio books read by the author are worthy listening.]

Half Magic (and others) by Edward Eager [Delightful and witty.]

Homer Price (and Centerburg Tales) by Robert McCloskey [Homer Price is always my first suggestion when someone asks me for book recommendations for boys! Homer is resourceful and always finds himself in the middle of adventures.]

Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson [More vintage schemes and adventures!]

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat [Laugh-out-loud adventures of a boy and his pet menagerie.]

The Mad Scientists’ Club by Bertrand Brinley [More vintage capers.]

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster [This hilarious book is full of word play humor and a love of words and numbers.]

The Knights’ Tales by Gerald Morris [The four books in this series are perfect for knight-loving boys. Humor and chivalry make a great combination.]

Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey [Hilarious stories of the Gilbreth family, but a tear-jerker warning for the ending!]

Realistic and Survival

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare [A thirteen-year-old boy is left to tend his family’s cabin in the wilderness.]

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George [A boy leaves the city and survives alone in the wilderness with a falcon and weasel for company.]

Hatchet (and others) by Gary Paulsen [A thirteen-year-old boy finds himself alone in a wilderness after a plane crash.]

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls [A young boy and his two dogs become a hunting team. Tear-jerker warning!]

Little Britches and series by Ralph Moody [This autobiographical series is a family favorite.]

The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour [Perfect for slightly older readers, this novel is full of adventure and survival—and a love of books.]

I Am David by Anne Holm [A twelve-year-old boy escapes from a labor camp and makes his way alone across Europe. This is one of my childhood favorites.]

The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong [A young Chinese boy is separated from his family during the Japanese invasion. He must begin a dangerous journey in order to be reunited.]


The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan [This fantasy series is a top favorite for all three of my boys.]

The Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris [This series is at the top of my own favorites list, and my boys have loved them as well. Hilarious, witty, simple, stirring, and profound. Strong male and female characters. Full of virtue, chivalry, and what it means to be human (along with foils to show the opposite). Parental warning: these are retellings of Arthurian legends, so they contain romantic situations both positive and negative, including several affairs. The author treats the negative relationships appropriately, never explicit and always showing the steep consequences for actions.]

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson [Another family favorite.]

The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers [The story of King David loosely re-imagined in the swamps of “Corenwald.”]

The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander [A modern classic.]

Outlaws of Time (and others) by N.D. Wilson [I personally love the Western fantasy adventure of Outlaws of Time, but Wilson’s other books are worthy reading as well.]

Watership Down by Richard Adams [Watership Down may be a book about rabbits, but it probably belongs in the realistic survival genre. This is an excellent novel for slightly older readers as it explores the nature of leadership and various societal structures. Adams is a master at world-building. A classic!]


The Moffats (series) by Eleanor Estes [Meet Sylvie, Joey, Janey, and Rufus in this classic family adventure.]

The Saturdays (Melendy Quartet) by Elizabeth Enright [Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver go for independent adventures in New York City circa 1940s.]

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome [This 1930 gem tells the story of the Walker siblings and their parent-less sailing trip to an uninhabited island.]

“Girl Books” Loved by (My) Boys

Jenny and the Cat Club (series) by Esther Averill [Jenny the darling black cat may be the main character, but her cat club friends are just as personable.]

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton [Quirky and delightful in every way.]

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin [Chinese folklore-inspired fantasy.]

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Summer Bucket List ~ Portland, Oregon

St. Johns Bridge @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

It’s still technically summer, right?

We took a family drive up to Portland. Seeing everything interesting in Portland takes much more than a day, but we hit a few memorable locations.

After a morning of fighting and yelling and unpleasantness (yes, really), the above moment was the first bright spot. The kids yelled, “The Librarians!” when they realized that this is the exact spot that The Librarians was filmed. The stone base on the lower right is the entrance to their “Annex.”

In the distance you can see part of Forest Park (more about that in a minute).

St. Johns Bridge is a steel suspension bridge spanning the Willamette River. It was built between 1929 and 1931.

St. Johns Bridge Above @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesSt. Johns Bridge Below @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

After we crossed the bridge twice, we walked a small portion of a trail in Portland’s famous Forest Park. The 5,100 acres of this urban park (one of the largest in the nation) contain 70 miles of trails. We may have walked one mile. This is Leif Erikson Drive. [The boys have enjoyed the Wildwood series which takes place in Forest Park. One of these days, we’ll walk the 30 mile Wildwood Trail.]

Forest Park Portland @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

After Forest Park, we spent a short hour at Powell’s Books, reportedly the largest new and used book store in the world.

Powell's Books Portland @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

After Powell’s, Russ dropped me off for a visit with Mandi Ehman who was in town for a conference. I haven’t seen her in person since our trip to visit Susan Wise Bauer over 5 years ago! [Photo from Mandi’s phone.] I met two new friends as well!

Blog Friends @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Russ went fishing with the kids back near the St. Johns Bridge while I was socializing, then returned to pick me up.

The wildfire smoke was awful in Portland. It bothered me more on this trip than it had the whole month before. I’ve never been so glad to see a week of rain in the forecast.

We hit Fuddruckers for dinner on the way home, and I think that was (predictably) the highlight of the day for the kids.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire

Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

This may have been our tenth year attending (we first attended when Leif was a year old but we missed a year or two in between), so pictures become redundant. It’s strange to have the boys be so independent at the faire. It feels like home to them. Even Lola thinks nothing of talking to painted and tattooed strangers or helping strange magicians on stage. (This was her fifth year attending.)

The location is spectacular. It’s a huge field surrounded by forested hills in Oregon’s Coastal Range—no civilization in view, other than the event. Part of the faire takes place in the forest adjacent to the field. The weather this year was the best yet.

Kings Valley @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Just lovely.

Renaissance Faire Fun @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire Jousting @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Monday, September 11, 2017

First Day of School ~ 2017

First Day of School 2017 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We survived our first full day back to school. I even managed to snap a picture of all four kids before we headed to our Classical Conversations community this morning. (I actually snapped a bunch of pictures, but this is the only one that kind of turned out…)

This is our EIGHTH year with Classical Conversations.

Levi is in 10th grade, Challenge 2.
Luke is in 8th grade, Challenge B.
Leif is in 6th grade, Foundations and Essentials.
Lola is in 1st grade, Foundations.

Two middle schoolers and a high schooler. That is mind-boggling.

I’m tutoring Essentials for the third year.

We’ve been homeschooling for a decade.

First Day of CC @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Luke and Levi have actually been back in class for a couple weeks, but this is the first full normal week for them.

Lola had a rough day today. She was testing boundaries. Where is that line? What happens when I cross it? I’m hoping that she feels her questions were sufficiently answered and doesn’t need to ask them again next week.

Last week was packed with activities and appointments. Levi and I attended a day-long philosophy workshop at Gutenberg College on Friday. Saturday was our annual trek to the Renaissance Faire (pictures forthcoming).

I’m completely and utterly unprepared for this week of lessons at home.

But onward.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Home School Day at the Oregon Garden

Oregon Garden @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

We met up with a bunch of friends and family (Shannon, Mom, Lindsay & Bob, Jessye, Rebecca, Danielle, and Cynthia plus all the kids) at the Oregon Garden for their annual Home School Day today. We said hello to several other friends as we wandered.

We’ve attended several in years past, but not recently. I realized Lola had only attended one year (poor youngest child).

The smoke in Oregon has been oppressive and Levi and Luke had their CC Challenge classes today, but I decided to get out of the house with Leif and Lola and see some beauty.

Oregon Garden Home School Day @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

On home school day, learning stations are set up throughout the garden: scavenger hunt, obstacle course, coloring projects, and lots of things to touch and look at. As always, we spent a great deal of time in the children’s garden as well. Rolling down the hobbit hill, crawling through the hobbit tunnel, playing on the pirate ship, watching the little train, digging in the sand pit, running through the bamboo path…

Oregon Garden Smoky View @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

No blue skies for us this year, but the smoke wasn’t as bad as it could have been and the temperature was perfect.

I spent more time talking and relaxing and less time taking pictures. We spent most of our time with Cynthia and her kids, but I have no pictures of us together.

Oregon Garden Butterfly Girls @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesOregon Garden Home School @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesOregon Garden Home School Day Activity @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Lovely, lovely.

Oregon Garden Reflection @ Mt. Hope Chronicles