A peaceful day

Phillipians 4:4-8

For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light shall we see light. Psalm 36:9

A look back at AO8 Term1

Posted by Jeanne

In two days we'll be finished AO8 term one. How can that possibly be?  It has been a good term, did you hear that, a good term.  I feel a need to reiterate that fact, because my posts at the beginning of term were filled with how hard we were finding things, how difficult the readings were, and how we were failing to understand.  I'm here to comfort you a little today by saying that it really did get easier, we actually started to like - and understand the books, and we actually had some fun along the way.

Here, subject by subject, is what we thought of the books:

Bible and Theology

Our book this term was The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.  It was okay. It was an easy read, which is nice, but I prefer to read all the theology books aloud to my daughter so that we can discuss them, so this doesn't matter much to us. Jemimah does her Bible reading privately in her room each day before class, so our weekly theology lesson is an opportunity for me to touch base with her, hear her thoughts on her readings, and also discuss a little bit more about our faith and what we believe.

I say The Case for Christ was okay, and it was. The book is the story of author, Lee Strobel's attempt to "determine if there's credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God", and I thing he does manage to establish his case, but it appeared to be a book written for skeptics, and neither Jemimah nor I felt the need for this intellectual defence of our faith at this stage. That said, he did put forward a reasonable argument, and we both learned a few things.


This is our second year using Churchill's series, A History of the English Speaking Peoples, and in AO8 we're using Volume Two, The New World. Jemimah prefers that I divide these readings into daily portions instead of reading a whole chapter at once, and so I did that again this year, but I'm not sure that it was really necessary.  This book seems much easier to understand than Volume One, mainly, I think, because Churchill spends more time on each king, and we are more familiar with the stories of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I than we are with some of the earlier monarchs.  Anyhow, whatever the reason, Jemimah finds this book interesting, and fairly easy to keep sorted.

In addition to the book, Jemimah kept a Century Chart, which went particularly well. I'll try to post picks of the finished object shortly.  She also maintained her Book of Centuries.  I'm sure these also played a role in keeping the 16th Century organised in her mind.

The play, A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, has been turned into a terrific movie of the same name, and so I scheduled this for our first day back at school.  I'm really glad I did.  The production really set the scene so very well, and certainly brought Sir Thomas More to life for us. Later Jemimah and I chose to read this play aloud, each playing different roles.  It was a lot of fun.  This book is full of the most amazing quotes.  Keep your Commonplace Book handy.

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

(A Man for All Seasons, Act One, Scene Seven)
Life of Francis Bacon by William Rawley is really short.  It is written in convoluted language, but Jemimah didn't seem to have trouble comprehending it, mainly I think because it was scheduled for the last four weeks of term when her mind was better attuned to the Elizabethan style.  This short work seemed to produce excellent written narrations, possibly because it was short enough to be able to summarise without much difficulty.

I was dreading The Voyage of the Armada by David Howarth, to be honest - my dance-loving daughter read a whole long boring book about a sea battle - seriously?  Fortunately, I didn't admit my reservations to Jemimah, because this book is one of her favourites.  She is absolutely intrigued by Parma's no-show, and has really cast him in the bad guy role, although she is not too fond of the Spanish King, either. This book continues on into Term II, but since the Battle of Gravelines is the next chapter, she hasn't got far to go now.  This book has turned out to be one of the pleasant surprises in Term I.


I dropped the geography titles on Columbus this term in favour of an Aussie title, Around Australia by prolific author, Charles Barrett.  I'll write about this book separately, I think, but it was pretty good, although it required a lot of updating. We haven't done Aussie geography for a few years, so I think this was a good substitution.

For map drills, Jemimah has been enjoying the free app recommended by AO, TapQuiz. She concentrated on the Pacific and South East Asia this term, and found it fun.

Government and Economics

I was uncertain of how relevant Whatever Happened to Justice, by Richard Maybury, would be for my Aussie daughter, but we've found enough of interest to choose to continue with it this far. Some of the early chapters had a great deal of overlap with Bacon's Utopia, which we are reading at the same time, and Jemimah has written some excellent 'compare and contrast' type essays using these two titles.  It's a really easy read, but Maybury's one-eyed opinion of America as the greatest place on earth gets a little waring after a while if you're not American and you happen to think that your own country is pretty wonderful as well.


Ourselves by Charlotte Mason has continued on from last year.  It's the easiest of her volumes, being written for young teens, but Jemimah and I certainly find a lot to discuss each time she reads it. Speaking about character like this allows us to discuss our own characters in an impersonal way that is not threatening and I am really impressed with my daughter's insight into her own personality and behaviour.

On to Plutarch. You should be afraid when I say that Plutarch's Lives has been a doddle this term, because...well...Plutarch used to be so hard, so what is our definition of hard now?  Well our definition of hard is our next two Citizenship titles, Utopia by Sir Thomas More, and Francis Bacon's Essays.

I read the first of these aloud to Jemimah this term, and Book One, in particular was extremely difficult to comprehend.  Read almost impossible. Still, we ploughed on, some weeks understanding more than others.  The bits we did understand were fabulous, and made us persevere, but there were lots of other parts that were just a jumble of words.  There are a few reasons for our problems, and most of these have to do with our choice of book.  Our volume is an old one, written in Elizabethan English with almost no paragraphs.  Really.  As in one every twenty pages or so. And those paragraphs were made up of really long run-on sentences about all sorts of philosophical stuff. AO now recommends a modern version - with paragraphs - translated by Paul Turner, so hopefully you won't have the same problems we've had. Fortunately, while the first book is all about three friends who meet up in Antwerp and have a really long chat about whether or not it's possible for philosophy to influence politics, Book Two is all about the mythical (only the men don't know its mythical) island of Utopia. This book covers each characteristic of Utopia individually - its geography, history cities, food, clothing, work, studies, religion, laws, holidays, and more, and it is truly fascinating. Some parts of Utopia sound wonderful - short work days, no money, no pride, no poverty, no dissatisfaction, other parts are not quite so good. Neither Jemimah and I think we would cope so well with all those rules, to begin with.

Anyhow, all I can say about Utopia is that it is worth persevering, even if at first you don't understand much at the start.  If you really, really have trouble, try jumping ahead to Book Two.  It's much easier, and you can always go back and read Book One at the end.  That's, in fact, the way More wrote it, so I'm sure there are valid reasons for reading it in that order as well.  And use Turner's translation, or at least one with paragraphs.

I wrote about Francis Bacon's Essays here, and how we chose to deal with this super-challenging text. Now, only a couple of months later, I am delighted to say that Jemimah has enjoyed her paraphrasing of these essays more than any other subject this term.  I've been posting them online, and I'm sure you'll agree, she's done a sterling job of them. The final essay for the term, Of Friendship is by far the longest she has attempted yet, but I'm sure you'll agree that her paraphrase of this one is her best so far.  I'll post it when she's done.

Just briefly back to Plutarch, it really is easy now.  I write a bit about that here.

Phew!  Still with me?  If you are, and you're finding this useful, do let me know, and I'll continue with our thoughts about the rest of AO8 Term I's books next time. And if not, it has been really helpful for me.


Making memories

Posted by Jeanne

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing... about in boats — or with boats. In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

We almost talked ourselves out of doing this on Saturday. It was expensive, not educational, and kind of silly to think of taking a punt ride around the ornamental lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens. After all, hadn't we visited the gardens to see the flowering Titan Arum, not mess about in boats?

I'm afraid Daddy's logic was airtight, and we all agreed. It looked fun, but it was unnecessary.

And then suddenly there we were, waiting at the dock to hop in.



Can you see how wonderful it was? As we lay back on the plush pink cushions, white parasols shielding us from the fierce heat of the sun, and calmly meandered around the islands, we looked at each other and smiled. We had definitely made the right decision. This was going to become part of our family's collected memory. It was sublimely, peacefully perfect.

We chatted with the punter and admired his technique with the pole. We laughed at his stories. Together we identified moorhens, swanphens and coots, laughed at a funny Pacific Black duck, who followed our punt, admired a couple of aptly named Eastern long-necked turtles, discussed the dangers of the recent blue-green algal bloom, the use of artificial islands as a water filtration system, searched for elusive bell birds in the trees - so easy to identify; so very hard to spot, and lots of other stuff, but mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Making memories, for us, is intentional. There are lots of bits of Jemimah's childhood that are far from perfect, and I can't do much about those, but I can help create good times. They don't always cost money, either. A mummy-daughter night with popcorn and a movie. A walk hand-in-hand through the bush. A green St Pat's meal. A picnic at the lake.

When she is grown, it is entirely possible that Jemimah will look back at her childhood and see parents who worked too hard, and a house damaged by floods, but somehow I don't think so. I hope she'll see the magic parts. The ballet, the picnics, the holidays, the food, the books, the jigsaws, the happiness. I pray that she will.

And maybe she will remember the special afternoon we spent together punting on the ornamental lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens in the middle of the Melbourne city, and how happy we all were. I think I'll remember it as well.








Of Innovations

Posted by Jeanne

Jemimah's paraphrase of Francis Bacon's Of Innovations.

Of Innovations

New ideas, which are born of time, are like living creatures, and are underdeveloped in the beginning. Despite this, and in the same way that those who first bring honor to their families are mostly more worthy than their children, so the first idea (if it is a good one) is rarely acquired by copying. For evil, according to man’s perverted nature, gathers strength as it grows, whereas good is strongest at the beginning. Every medicine is a new idea, and those that won’t use them must expect new illnesses, for time will bring out new ideas. If time makes things worse, and wisdom and good advice can’t make them better, what will become of us? It is true that settling things by tradition might not be perfect, but at least it is accepted, and those things that have gone together for a long time are at least linked, whereas new things don’t necessarily fit in. So new ideas are useful but they can cause problems. They are like strangers, admired but not approved of. Well, this would be true if time stood still, but it doesn’t. On the contrary, times moves in such a way that continuing with traditions can be as disruptive as the new idea was, and those who live in the past are scorned by men of new ideas. Therefore, it would be good if innovators would follow time’s example. Time certainly brings great ideas, but it does it slowly and quietly so that you hardly notice them. Otherwise, anything new is not wanted. It surely helps some and hinders others, and he that is helped takes it as a blessing and thanks time, whereas he who is hurt takes it as a bad thing and blames the creator. It is good not to try experiments in states unless it is urgent or obviously beneficial. We would do well to remember that reformation comes from the change; wanting change doesn’t bring about the reformation. Finally, remember that a new idea, even though it is not rejected outright, might be held in suspicion, and as Scripture says, we should stand in the old ways and look and find where the straight and right way is, and walk in it.


Dis and dat

Posted by Jeanne

:: I am sitting in the kitchen sipping white wine while watching other people cook my dinner.  This is, as you can imagine, rather rare, so I am enjoying it very much.  My husband is hosting a young student at work, and he is head chef.  Hubby is acting in the role of sous chef and bottle washer.  We are having homemade pasties.  Yum.  The wine is very nice. It is called Upside Down Sauvignon Blanc from Malborough in New Zealand, in case you wondered.

:: Tomorrow my beloved and I are going to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at our local cinema.

It is a fundraiser for the Rotary Club, and includes dinner first and supper afterwards, so I don't need to prepare meals then, either.  Perhaps I will forget how to cook. Hah!  Have you seen this film?  Is it good?

:: This weekend we are going camping to celebrate Jemimah's 13th birthday.  We are staying at a remote campsite where you have to pack everything - water, firewood, everything, so it is quite a process, especially since we are hosting four other young teens as well as our own.  We're beginning to wonder whether this might have been a bad idea.  Anyhow, we're going.  Think of us.  Mum, can you mind the dog?

::  I have begun a decluttering project with a few friends.  It is very liberating to get rid of junk.  I'm not planning to do anything too scary here, but it is amazing how much rubbish you accumulate over a decade.  Today I cleaned out my bedside drawers and found a couple of booklists that I thought I'd lost forever, so I am rather chuffed about that.

:: We are planning a holiday.  We don't have much time, so we're thinking Bali might be nice. We're looking at May.  No, we won't be camping.

 Are you planning a holiday, too?  Where are you looking at going?  Are you decluttering with me?  Are you having your dinner cooked for you?  What's going on in your life this week?


Pesto Mmmmmm

Posted by Jeanne

There is nothing that says summer to me better than pesto made from basil fresh picked from my garden. Here's my recipe:

First put some water on to boil ready to cook your pasta. If it's dry pasta, put it on to cook now. If it is fresh pasta, wait until you've prepared the pesto.

Strip the leaves from a two or three long stems of basil. About this many.

Wash them well, drain and wack them into the food processor.

Fry two tablespoons of pinenuts in a tablespoon of olive oil until they're browned like this.

Stick the pinenuts in the food processor along with two garlic cloves, salt and pepper.

Zap 'em for a bit.

While the food processor is still running, add 1/4 cup olive oil in a thin stream.

Move the pesto to a mixing bowl and add three tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.


Add it to your pasta. Mine is potato gnocchi.

Then you're done, and you can eat. Only I like mine with fresh tomato and goats cheese.

Enjoy. And think of me. This is one of my very favourite summer dishes.

Are you a pesto lover? What is your favourite pasta sauce?



AO is a free lunch

Posted by Jeanne

If you've read Richard Maybury's Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, you'll be familiar with the acronym TANSTAAFL. It stands for There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, and it basically means that it is impossible to get something for nothing. Which is true, right? The free lunch part of the saying, according to Wikipedia, refers to the nineteenth century practise in American bars of offering a free lunch to patrons who had consumed at least one drink. The plan was to lure you into the bar, and to feed you salty food so that you'd keep drinking their overpriced drinks. So you see, in reality, the lunch wasn't free at all - you just paid for the drinks instead. Most things are like this, aren't they? Maybury in his book uses the term to explain the economic concept, opportunity cost, but it relates to everything. Everything costs, doesn't it?

Well no, actually, it doesn't. Back when Jemimah was three years old (she turned 13 yesterday, so I guess that was ten years ago), I stumbled across AmblesideOnline during an Internet search. The website described AO as a free Charlotte Mason style homeshooling curriculum, and so I was immediately on my guard. "TANSTAAFL," I muttered to myself. "There ain't no free lunches. What's the catch? There has to be a catch. Nothing is free." Only, ten years on I'm still looking for that catch, because there isn't one. AO is the exception that proves the rule. There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch. Or a Free Curriculum, at any rate.

AmblesideOnline was started back in 1999 by a group of amazing Christian homeschool mamas. These mamas have names too, and today they're known as a group as the AmblesideOnline Advisory. Their names are Wendi, Karen, Anne, Leslie, Leslie, Donna-Jean and Lynne. They have husbands, and children, and some of them even have grandchildren. In fact, apart from their amazingness, they're actually pretty normal ladies. Anyhow, these (amazing) ladies researched and compiled a whole CM curriculum for families to use. It consists of a booklist, schedule, poetry, folksongs, hymns, a nature study rotation and suggestions for curricula for maths and foreign languages. In short, it has everything you need to teach your children from Year 1-12. And then, get this, they decided to put it online for free. Free. FREE.

 These mamas ( did I mention they are amazing) have worked for fifteen years for no remuneration. They receive no fees or dues, and they make utilising the curriculum as free as they can make it. They have worked to put Charlotte Mason's own writings online for free. They provide an online community for AO users called the AO Forum. They have created a library of additional materials, and they have done it for love. They have done it because they have seen how Charlotte Mason's methods have helped their own families, and they want other families to see this benefit too. (Okay, just to be completely transparent, they receive a very small amount of money from people who chose to purchase books through their affiliate link at Amazon. They use these proceeds to keep the website and the online support forum up and running. They do not make a profit from this money. There, I said it.) These ladies have given us an amazing, no strings attached, free lunch.

As I see it, there are two groups of people who choose to make great use of the Advisory's free gift. The first group use elements of AO. Some of these would call their homeschool a Charlotte Mason homeschool, but not all. Some might call themselves Charlotte Mason inspired. Some are Neoclassical, or unschoolers or eclectic. Some might wish to supplement their traditionally schooled children's education. These people are of all types. They may use the booklist as a source of excellent living books on history or geography or economics or science. They may use just the literature. This is wonderful. The AO booklists contain much of what could be called the Canon of Children's Literature - those classic books every child should read, and if that's what you choose to use AO for, the Advisory will be delighted. Others may choose to print off the poetry selections, or the hymns or the folksongs. Great idea! You may choose to use Anne's sublime Plutarch study guides, or print off a study guide of a particular book your kids are struggling with. That's fine. They're free. You may choose to load Charlotte Mason's volumes onto your kindle for free, or read through old editions of the Parents' Review journal. You may do any or all of these. You can do any of these things provided that you remember that while AmblesideOnline is free, it still belongs to those amazing ladies - to Karen, Wendi, Leslie, Leslie, Anne, Lynne and Donna-Jean. Use it, but don't forget that it's copyright, and don't put parts of it online pretending it is yours.

There is another group who choose to make use of AO, and those are people like me, people who use the AmblesideOnline curriculum in its entirety. The AO curriculum was created to match Charlotte Mason's high standards, and is designed to be as close as possible to what the Advisory believe Charlotte Mason's students would have used were she alive in 2015. It is a work in progress, and is continually being refined and improved as knowledge about Miss Mason and her methods has grown, but I think it is pretty amazing (did I say it was free?), and I have used it with confidence for the education of my daughter. There are thousands of others like me, and you'll find many of us congregated at the AO forum, where we discuss all sorts of things relevant to our children's education. The people like me who use AO in its entirety mostly regard ourselves as Charlotte Mason purists. We aim to make our children's education as close to the ideals Miss Mason laid out in her 6 volume series of books as we can, with adaptions for time and family and religious differences. We discuss her writings. We talk through issues we are facing in our own schools, and brainstorm solutions. We gain support from those who have gone before. Most of all, we develop and maintain close friendships with kindred spirits. We feel warm and cozy and safe.

Which is why a couple of weeks ago I had a rude shock. I was visiting another online homeschooling site that is open to casual browsing. I'd come across the site during a google search, and was somewhat surprised to discover a discussion about Ambleside Online and its forum. Only the forum they were describing didn't align with my experience of my lovely online home at all. These people were disparaging of AO. They described AO and its curriculum and its forum as elitist and snobby and unfriendly. They looked down on CM's methods and they maligned AO. It was really harsh. Especially because I recognised the names of some of the people from my own beloved AO forum. Why were they saying these things? I was really hurt.

I've pondered the reason for this alone for the last couple of weeks, and I think the answer is that, as I've just said, AO means different things to those two different groups of people. To some it's just a booklist, or a nature study plan, or a list of songs, whereas to the others it is something to be adhered to and followed as closely as we can. If you fail to recognise this distinction you're in trouble. See, AO's Forum and Facebook group exist primarily for the second group.  There are many Charlotte Mason generalist sites; these two are AO specific. Now you can visit AO's forum or AO's Facebook group no matter which group of AO users you fall into. You can be a dabbler or a purist, but if you do, please remember that AO's volunteer moderators and Auxiliary workers (of which I am one), are going to assume that you're using the curriculum as written - or that you want to. We're going to encourage you to read Miss Mason's books and to educate your children the CM way because that's what we believe works so well for our children. If you post to the AO Facebook group about something that's not related to AO, then it will probably be deleted because the AO Facebook group is primarily for AOers, and if people visit AO's page, they need to be able to learn about CM and AO without being confused. When a mama on the AO FB group or on the forum corrects your understanding of CM, they are not meaning to be rude. They may not phrase it as well as they could, but they are taking time out of their busy day to try to help you. Do try and take their reply that way.

This, to me, explains the issues of the ladies on the other website. They were not first and foremost CMers, they were using the methods of the site I was visiting with a bit of AO thrown in, which is fine, but I think they were surprised when they discovered that the answers they were given on AO's forum encouraged the use of AO. They shouldn't have been. I think people are surprised when their suggestions to use alternative CM curricula are not taken too well on AO's FB group page. They shouldn't be. Why would you encourage people to use another curriculum on AO's site?

Whatever you think of AmblesideOnline, and I do hope those thoughts are nice ones, I want you to remember one thing. AO is a free lunch. It is a beautiful gift of love given to you free of charge by Lynne, Donna-Jean, Leslie, Anne, Leslie, Wendi and Karen. Use all of it or only some, but please do remember what you're being given, and just how rare it is to get anything at all with no strings attached.

AO is a free lunch. And that breaks all the rules in the book. Take it and use it with thanks.


A teeny tiny treasure

Posted by Jeanne

My family has recently started a big decluttering project, ridding drawers and shelves of superfluous stuff. It is very satisfying, and while it is still early days, we are already enjoying our newly cleared and organised spaces.

There is another advantage to decluttering too, one that I hadn't really thought of, and that is that because you're opening drawers and cupboards and boxes that you don't often open, you find things. Things that you didn't even know you'd lost. Today I found my 'precious box'. You can see a photo of it down the bottom of the post. It's just a cardboard box filled with things that are precious only to me, and every one is filled with precious memories.

One of the items inside is this teeny tiny Bible, and because you're all bibliotragics like me, I thought you might like to see inside. Isn't it beautiful? The words are legible if your eyesight is good enough, and it is illustrated with many line drawings. It was a gift to me from my mum and dad when I was still a teenager, I think.

Here's my precious box. Perhaps one day I'll show you what else is hidden inside. Would you like to see? Do you have a precious box from your youth? What do you keep in yours?

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Wow! You haven't really read to the bottom of the page, have you? Goodness, thank you!