Sunday, 26 February 2017

The House of the Four Winds by John Buchan (1935)

There are three outstanding heroes to be found in the novels of John Buchan. Richard Hannah is the most famous of them all and is the central figure in The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep - all fantastic stories well worth reading.
Sir Edward Leithen is another hero and apparently the narrator of John Macnab, one of Buchan's books I haven't yet read, but it comes highly recommended by a few of my kids.
The third outstanding figure in Buchan's novels is Dickson McCunn, the respectable, retired Glasgow grocer who is introduced in Huntingtower along with the Gorbals Diehards and they re-appear in Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds.
The three McCunn books are best read in order as there are a number of references to events that happened in previous books.

The House of the Four Winds is a little more fanciful and has a less serious tone than many of Buchan's other tales - our hero gets into the plot when someone appears at his upper window on the back of Aurunculeia the elephant, for example. The action is centred in the fictional country of Evallonia in Central Europe where the Republican Government of the country is in disarray and on the verge of revolution. Prince John, the rightful heir to the vacant throne, is in hiding and is regarded as a puppet by Juventus, the Nationalist movement made up mostly of Evallonian youth.
Complicating the situation is Mastrovin the Communist who is determined to get rid of Prince John in order to prevent the Monarchists taking government.

Great events, says the philosophic historian, spring only from great causes, though the immediate occasion may be small; but I think his law must have exceptions. If the not inconsiderable events which I am about to chronicle, the occasion was trivial, and I find it hard to detect the majestic agency behind them.

Trivial incidents introduce Dickson McCunn, Alison Westwater and John (Jaikie) Galt into the intrigues of Evallonia where great events are unfolding and where they each play an important role. The House of the Four Winds hasn't the depth of most of the Buchan novels I've read so far, but it is still a good story and I think Buchan's development of the character of Jaikie Galt, the true hero of this story, makes up for any lack in other areas.
Jaikie is introduced in Huntingtower as one of the Gorbals Diehards, a group of orphaned street boys roaming the slums of Glasgow, and since then Dickson had basically adopted him as his son and put him through Cambridge.

His future - what was he to do now that he was done with Cambridge? Alison - his need of her grew more desperate every day, but what could he offer her worthy if her acceptance? 
Only his small dingy self, he concluded, with nothing to his credit except a second-class degree, some repute in Rugby football, and the slenderest of bank balances. It seemed the most preposterous affair of a moth and a star.

Jaikie is a courageous young man but he struggles with his identity at times. In earlier days he'd been humiliated by the formidable Mastrovin and again he finds himself subject to the man's malevolence and his own self-abasement:

The formidable eyebrows were drawn together, and the whole man became an incarnate menace. Jaikie, empty, headachy, sitting in his shabby clothes on the edge of the bed, felt very small and forlorn. He sometimes felt like that, and on such occasions he would have given all he possessed for another stone of weight and another two inches of height.
 Once again he felt, sharp as a toothache, his extreme insignificance.

For a moment his heart failed him. Then his sense of feebleness changed into desperation. He knew that the lives of the other three depended on him, and the knowledge stung him into action. Never had he felt so small and feeble and insignificant, but never so determined.

As with Buchan's other books, there are some interesting philosophical comments scattered throughout that are a reflection of the post World War I era. The words below had a touch of G.K. Chesterton, me thinks - maybe it was the street lamps comment??

"...We are now in the midst of the retarded liquidation of the War. I do not mean debts and currencies and economic fabrics, but something much more vital - the thoughts of men. The democracies have lost confidence. So long as they believed in themselves they could make shift with constitutions and parliaments and dull republics. But once let them lose confidence, and they are like children in the dark, reaching out for the grasp of a strong hand. That way lies the dictator. It might be the monarch if we bred the right kind of king...
Also there is something more dangerous still, a stirring of youth, disappointed, aggrieved youth, which has never known the discipline of war. Imaginative and incalculable youth, which clamours for the moon and may not be content till it has damaged most of the street lamps."

John Buchan's books are in the Public Domain and are available for kindle here.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2017: A Classic with a Number in the Title.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Preparing Hearts for Easter - a Children's Book Giveaway!

Make Room: A Child's Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary; Illustrated by Ann Boyajian is a simple but unique book to teach children about the heart of the practice of Lent in the lead up to Easter. While there are numerous resources explaining Lent, especially for adults, what makes this book different is the theme of 'making room' in our lives as opposed to being just a time of penitence.
I'm making this observation as one whose Church Family celebrates Easter and Advent while not officially observing the season of Lent but for the first twelve or thirteen years of my life I was brought up in the Catholic faith, so I do remember aspects of these liturgical traditions but I never really understood their meaning at the time.
Make Room explains them in a way that I never comprehended as a child. Lent in my mind brought  back memories of eating fish and having ash smeared on my forehead - externals that didn't reach my heart back then and therefore were easily discarded later on.
Over the past few years I've been contemplating liturgy and tradition and how to meaningfully incorporate them into our days. We've focussed mostly on Advent, but Easter seems to come upon us all of a sudden and while we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I don't think our observance of this time truly reflects its incredible significance. Unlike Christmas, where there is still evidence to be seen around us in the form of manger scenes, Christmas Carols, and 'goodwill to men,' the celebration of this most world-changing event is overshadowed by an avalanche of bunnies and chocolate.

In Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper writes:

"Traditions are a vital way of displaying our greatest treasure, of showing what - Who - is most important to us."

Laura Alary explains the season of Lent as a journey mirroring the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness where he made time to listen to Father God and to get ready for what He had come into the world to do.
Whether your Church tradition includes the observance of Lent or not, Make Room is a book to share with your children to help prepare their hearts for understanding and appreciating the Easter message.

Make Room is published by Paraclete Press and contains 32 pages with winsome full-colour illustrations throughout. (See their website for a view of the inside of the book) It would be ideal for a family read aloud for ages 6 to 12 years.
Paraclete Press has kindly given me a copy of this book as a giveaway. If you would like to enter to win the book you may choose one or all of these ways:

* Leave a comment below
* Like journey & destination's newly created Facebook page
* Comment on the Facebook page

I'd also love you to share any traditions your family has to celebrate this season. A winner will be chosen and announced on Friday 3rd March.

Entrants from anywhere in the world where there is a postal service are welcome to enter!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sanctification in the Commonplace

I wrote the post below three years ago. Later this year my husband and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Sometimes when I think back on our life together, this poem, Uphill, by Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) seems a fitting description of the road we've travelled:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
   Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
   From morn to night, my friend.

Together we've faced the loss of life - four of our own children at various stages of gestation and the sudden death of my brother, so dear to both of us; one of our parents and our grandparents. We've had our disappointments, our joys and our heartaches. We've seen each other at our best and at our worst.  Life can look unromantic and very ordinary at times but as C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glorythere are no ordinary people.

It is a serious thing... to remember that the...person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

Lewis talks about our neighbour's load, or weight, or burden of glory that is laid on our backs and that only humility that can carry it. What a fitting metaphor for marriage:

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

I read this excerpt from Ann Voscamp's book, The Broken Way, this morning: The Real Truth about Romance & 'Boring' Men - and the Women who Love Them: Redefining "Boring Romance."          

The real romantics are the boring ones — they let another heart bore a hole deep into theirs.
Real love will always make you suffer. Simply commit: Who am I willing to suffer for? 

Here is my original post:


The act of making holy.

The act of God's grace by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, exalted to a supreme love to God.

Marriage has been called a long path to sanctification.
I used to be concerned about working this sanctification out in front of our children, day in and day out. My husband and I are very different in personality, which makes life interesting; and we come from disparate backgrounds, which has caused us to misunderstand each other at times.

We've been married for nearly 27 years and for 25 years of that time our children have had occasion to witness our long path to sanctification. We've had a few momentous events throughout those years where it was obvious God was doing something significant in our lives and our children benefited from what we were experiencing. However, we were largely unaware of the myriads of times sanctification was going on because it was wrapped up in the very ordinary and commonplace and sometimes didn't look very pretty, and it certainly didn't look holy.

What is hard about marriage is what is hard also about facing the Christian God: it is the strain of living continually in the light of a conscience other than our own, being under the intimate scrutiny of another pair of eyes.

For marriage inevitably becomes the flagship of all other relationships. One's own home is the place where love must first be practiced before it can truly be practiced anywhere else. No one likes to be out of joint with a good friend or with in-laws or with an employer, but such problems at least can be tolerated. Yet any little thing that comes between a man and his wife is capable of wrenching them apart inside, and if that is not the case, then it can only be due to the growth of a callousness in them which cannot help carrying over into all their other relationships.

The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason

Last weekend our eldest son got married and during his wedding speech he shared an incident he'd witnessed on our long path to sanctification. It went something like this:

"When I was about 8 or 9, mum and dad had an argument when we were all having dinner. Dad said something silly and Mum got upset and left the room. Later that evening they were sitting up in their bed and called us all into the room and they both apologized to us kids for not showing love to each other earlier in the evening."

He went on to say that this episode cemented something solid into his life. Mum & Dad were committed to each other, with God as the ultimate authority, and the fact that we were submitted to Him helped embed a deep security into his life. This was a foundation we'd given him that he knew would be a bedrock for his own marriage.

It was very humbling to know that the Lord is so gracious and can use even our stuff-ups, weaknesses and failures  - the ordinary, common things of life - to sanctify us, and our children; to make something beautiful and lasting, an inheritance of grace to be passed on to the next generation.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

History is not what you thought...

A fun little book published in 1930 is 1066 And all That by W.C. Stellar and R.J. Yeatman.

'A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.'

Histories have previously been written with the object of exalting their authors. The object of this history is to console the reader. No other history does this.
History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. All other history defeats itself.

If you have a solid foundation in British history, or have indulged in a good amount of accurate historical fiction, or if you have read the English History selections from the first six or seven years of the Ambleside Online Curriculum, you would probably enjoy this satire of school history textbooks. If not, you could be excused for being totally confused after reading it.
The first four years of my schooling was spent in Scotland and I missed out on British history when I came to Australia where the focus was exclusively Australian for the rest of primary school. Not that I remembered much - the Eureka Stockade was about it. Highschool 'history' brought Communism, Bolshevism, Egalitarianism, and all the other 'isms' but no real pageant of past events. Everything I learnt about history began when I finished my school education and it has been consolidated as I've home educated seven children.
I did try reading 1066 And all That when I first picked it up secondhand a long time ago but I didn't have enough of a foundation in English history to make sense of it at the time.

Reading it again recently was a lot more fun. In the book, How The Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Childen's Books by Joan Bodger (scheduled for Geography in AO Year 7) the author mentions this book in her chapter 'Looking at History' and calls it '...a splendid spoof on English history and, I suppose, like a family joke - not much fun unless you know the straight of it.' That's a good way to describe it.

The first date in English History is 55 B.C., in which year Julius Caesar (the memorable Roman Emperor) landed, like all other successful invaders of these islands, at Thanet. This was in the Olden days, when the Romans were top nation on account of their classical education, etc.

There were a great many plots and Parliaments in James 1's reign, and one of the Parliaments was called the Addled Parliament because the plots hatched in it were all such rotten ones.
Did you know that the Rump Paliament was so-called because it had been sitting for a long time or that Robin Hood was a Socialist?

George III was a Bad King. He was, however, to a great extent insane and a Good Man and his ministers were always called Pitt. The Pitts, like Pretenders, generally came in waves of about two, an elder Pitt and a younger Pitt.

The real story behind the Boston Tea Party:

One day when George III was insane he heard that the Americans never had afternoon tea. This made him very obstinate and he invited them all to a compulsory tea-party at Boston; the Americans, however, started pouring the tea into Boston Harbour and went on pouring things into Boston Harbour until they were quite Independent, thus causing the United States.

The last event in Queen Victoria's reign was the Borewar, or, more correctly, Boerwoer (Dutch), which was fought against a very tiresome Dutch tribe called the Bores, because they were left over from all previous wars.

Bonus Test Papers are included:

After the 'Peace to End Peace,' America was clearly the top nation and the authors claimed that History came to an end. Therefore their History, as written in this slim tome, is therefore final.
The book is out of print but readily available secondhand.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Finding the Balance: Nourishing Spirit, Soul & Body

We've recently been looking at the paintings of Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) and this week's picture study has been on this painting below, 'Fortitude.'
When we nourish something, we strengthen or fortify it. Fortitude is the steadiness of mind and soul that helps us to choose the right in the face of danger or opposition. It is the basis or source of genuine courage and enables us to have magnanimity in all conditions of life.

I wasn't convinced that the word 'balance' was the best word to describe this constant juggle of looking after and nourishing these different areas of my life (spirit, soul & body) until I read its proper verb-form definition:

The verb 'balance' means to:

Weigh reasons; to compare by estimating the relative force, importance or value of different things...
To regulate different powers, so as to keep them in a state of just proportion...
To counterpoise...

Weigh, compare, regulate, estimate, keep in proportion.

Balance requires constant adjustment (counterpoise) to keep its equilibrium or poise.

Nourishing my Body

I really like that word, counterpoise, probably because it comes from an Old French word and has a certain ring to it, but also because it reminded me of a book I read when I was on holidays, French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano. What I really liked about this book was the author's commonsense approach to eating. Nothing radical here. No special foods but practical precepts such as portion size, eating seasonal food, having regular meals, and not multi-tasking while you eat. But what really struck me was her chapter, 'Moving Like a French Woman.'

American women, at one extreme, seem to have two modes: sitting or spinning. French women, at the other, prefer the gentler, more regular varieties of all-day movement - "the slow burn."

We strive to diversify the physical movement in our lives and practise it as second nature.

The act of incorporating physical movement into our everyday lives is an act of counterpoise. We might not get the time to spend an hour at the gym or go out for a vigorous walk or jog, but we can make physical movement second nature. Just recently Dawn Duran addressed the progressively sedentary nature of our modern lives and the need for mothers to address this aspect of physical activity in this post.

Nourishing my Spirit

A very close friend and I were talking about a month ago. We only get to see each other every couple of months and as we had about a four hour talk over coffee, we decided we would focus on praying for some situations in each of our families. We each made a list on our phones and committed to praying for each person/situation every day and keep each other updated.

'Do not be anxious about ANYTHING.'

I know those verses in Philippians back to front but I often find myself mulling over things, getting anxious without even realising that that is what I am actually doing. Knowing my friend has committed to pray for those things that are distractingly buzzing away in the background has brought nourishment to my spirit.

The other thing I've been doing for a couple of months now, is setting the timer for 10 or 15 minutes, shutting myself in our library/music room/lounge room, and spending that time praying. It sounds mechanical, but I get distracted easily and this is a way I've found to keep myself in check. I walk around that room or sit in the rocking chair and keep my mind & heart focussed until the buzzer goes off.

Marriage requires fortitude, as does bringing up children and home educating, because they are spiritual battlegrounds. I've been reading 'The Meaning of Marriage' by Timothy Keller and it's been a refreshing book on the subject for me. I rarely read books on this topic (two exceptions were The Mystery of Marriage and G.K Chesterton) The 'How to Have a Happy Husband' or 'Have a New Husband in Five Days' type of books just make me want to puke but Keller's book is well worth reading.

If our views of marriage are too romantic and idealistic, we underestimate the influence of sin on human life. If they are too pessimistic and cynical, we misunderstand marriage's divine origin. If we somehow manage, as our modern culture has, to do both at once, we are doubly burdened by a distorted vision. Yet the trouble is not within the institution of marriage but within ourselves.

Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel - that can be safely assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to 'be' loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.

I loved what Keller says here about the difference between what he calls 'Consumer' and 'Covenant' relationships:

When Ulysses was traveling to the island of the Sirens, he knew that he would go mad when he heard the voices of the women on the rocks. He also learned that the insanity would be temporary, lasting until he could get out of earshot. He didn't want to do something while temporarily insane that would have permanent bad consequences. So he put wax in the ears of the sailors, tied himself to the mast, and told his men to keep him on course no matter what he yelled...

What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows. A public oath made to the world, keeps you "tied to the mast" until your mind clears and you begin to understand things contrast, consumer relationships cannot possibly endure these inevitable tests of life, because neither party is "tied to the mast."

Nourishing my Soul

Nourishing my soul is probably the easiest thing out of the three for me to do.
Reading, good conversation, working with my hands to make create something lasting, looking at great art, listening to beautiful music and allowing nature give me a disposition of mind that I can get from no other source.

I was reading Genevieve Foster's 'Augustine Caesar's World' to Moozle yesterday and found this observation by the historian Livy when he was a young boy of why we need to study history.

...when Caesar had so boldly crossed the Rubicon River, when he had marched on Rome, and overthrown the government, he seemed no longer a great man, but a traitor to the Republic. Then, for the first time, the boy had realised how good and bad can be blended together in a single man, and in the story of a nation. That thought Livy was to put down in the introduction of his great history of the Roman people, which he was to write in future days.

"That is what makes the study of history so valuable," he was to say - "the fact that you can behold, displayed as on a monument, every kind of conduct; thence you may select for yourself and for your country that which you may imitate; thence note what is shameful in the undertaking and shameful in the result, which you may avoid..."

As a Christian, another aspect to consider is Community. I know there are seasons where this is difficult but going too long without community deprives us of nourishment. You need others and they need you, whether you realise it or not.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17


Updated to add my Commonplace entry:

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Picture Books for Art & Book Lovers

These are some of our favourite picture books because they are either beautiful and/or unique. I only realised as I was putting this post together that three of these books have some connection with France.

Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson - Illustrated by Christine Davenier; edited by Susan Snively

Emily Dickinson is a poet my children didn't take to very much. Moozle listened in when I was reading the poet's work aloud a few years ago to her older (less than impressed) brothers and decided she didn't like her either. However, I found this delightful book of Dickinson's poems illustrated by Christine Davenier, who was born in France and lives in Paris. The watercolour illustrations in the book were the drawcard for my artistically minded daughter. So I read a poem, she does some art appreciation, we decide which pictures we each like best and then she does some watercolour of her own using the paintings in the book as a guide. The illustrations have made a difference in her attitude to the poems of Emily Dickinson and helped Moozle to appreciate her work.

Paris, Up, Up and Away by Helene Druvert

This is a beautifully designed, whimsical picture book set in Paris with the Eiffel Tower as the main character. It's marketed as a children's book but the laser paper cuttings it contains are delicate and lace-like and would be appreciated by anyone with an eye for beauty and an interest in art and paper cutting. 'Scherenschnitte' is a term I was familiar with, which is the German form of paper cutting, and apparently Découper is the French form. This book takes the art form to a new level with the precision that the laser cutting manages to perform.

The Eiffel Tower is bored today
Wouldn’t it be nice to fly away?
Paris is full of things to do –
The Tower would like to see them too
The Tower takes off for the day
To watch the city work and play …

I bought this book when it first came out for my daughter who was 22 years old at the time and I don't have it here at present so I'm not able to post any pictures of the contents (but there are some here). It is the perfect gift for art lovers and francophiles. I must buy another copy for my youngest daughter who is using the Classical Academic Press French curriculum. (Free giveaway to enter here if you're interested) 

The author has another similar book: Mary Poppins, Up, Up and Away.


Vendela in Venice by Christina Björk; illustrated by Inga-Karin Eriksson

This is a short chapter, lavishly illustrated book that takes the reader on a journey through Venice. As Vendella's father said, "Every child should go to Venice." If you can't get there just yet, this book will give you a wonderful introduction to the culture and history of this fairy-tale city. For ages from around 8 years and up. The Classical Kids audio, Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery makes an ideal accompaniment to this book. (It's on YouTube)

Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson; illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

Set in Paris, Marguerite's father works at illuminating manuscripts for the nobility of France.
My youngest daughter loves this book and we used it when we did Ambleside Online Year 1. Today she referred to this book when she was looking through 'A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady' for nature notebooking inspiration. Marguerite Makes a Book is lovely inducement for budding artists.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

What is the definition of a picture book? About 32 pages with illustrations directed primarily for children? Did you know that the 2008 Randolph Caldecott Medal, the highest honour an artist can achieve for children's book illustration, was given to the author of a 500 page novel set in Paris? So I'm taking the liberty of putting The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady in a post of picture books. There are about 176 pages (depending on which edition you get) of the most exquisite paintings from the hand of a woman who had a naturalist's eye for detail combined with an artist's sensitivity. Holden made her first entry in her diary in 1906 and continued to record the changing seasons, poetry, nature observations and her own thoughts over the whole year in this lovely book.
In 1976, Holden's great-niece approached a publishing house with the original diary that had been passed down to her and the result was the publication of a 're-originated,' full-colour fascimile edition in 1977. There have been numerous editions of this book and this is the hardback copy I have which was published in 2000.

Edith Holden described her English countryside but the beauty of this book is its inspirational value, and her observations of the natural world, even though half a world away, are relevant for aspiring  naturalists wherever they might be. When I spend some time with this work I can't help but feel motivated to imitate what she has done.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston

A Child of Books resulted when the children's author and illustrator, Oliver Jeffers, and Sam Winston, a typographical artist, combined their efforts. It's a unique, multi-layered book that uses excerpts from classical children's books such as Little Women and Treasure Island, within the illustrations and is done in such a way that anyone of any age  interested in books would appreciate poring over it. I bought it for my older daughter who collects quality picture books to use in her teaching.
There's an interview with both of the authors here.