Saturday, 26 December 2020

Reading Challenges in 2021 - Updated

I've been looking over the books I own or want to borrow from the library and they fit into these two challenges. The first challenge is mostly my attempt to read through what is already on my shelves and also to help me choose books for my daughter who will be studying the 20th Century in 2021. So lots of books set in WWI & II and the former USSR. I mentioned below that I'd like to include more nonfiction and I'll likely include that in a European context. 

Updated to add some books I'm reading or planning to read:

Belgium - William: An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton 

Russia - A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Netherlands - The Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen

Italy - The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Armin

France - The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

Romania - Dracula by Bram Stoker

The European Reading Challenge is hosted by Rose City Reader and the details are here:

The second challenge is the 2021 Nonfiction Reader Challenge which I did in 2020 because I wanted to balance out my reading more. I used to read more nonfiction than fiction until I started to make my way through as many classics as I could, which I've loved, but I want to level things out a bit more. I've also been pleasantly surprised and interested in so many of the new books that have come out in this category. I think the standard of literary nonfiction that is written for the layperson has increased significantly in more recent years, especially in the area of science. This challenge is hosted by Shellyrae at Book'dOut. She has twelve categories and there are four I'd like to do: Biography, Travel, Wartime Experiences, Disease and maybe some others.

Biography: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

War Time Experiences: A Woman in Berlin (Anonymous)

Challenge details are here.

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Nature Study in Australia: The Christmas Bush & a Lakeside Holiday

Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) - is an Australian native that flowers in spring. It's not the petals or 'flowers' that stand out, though. This native bush or small tree is unique in that its sepals turn a brilliant red colour after flowering. Just in time for Christmas, hence the name, Christmas bush. I took some photos at different stages over the space of about a month. A couple are magnified to better show the flowers, which are quite small.

Magnified photo of the flowers

They are quite delicate and from a distance look bushy, like the first photo I posted above

A non-magnified view

And the sepals put on their show in summer

Our pre-Christmas lakeside holiday. We took the opportunity to have an extended family holiday while everyone could get time off work etc. 16 of us & it was great.

The going down of the sun

A jog along the beach - there are magnificent beaches all around Australia & lots of empty space to enjoy

Motor boat rides and kayaking - we took our two grandchildren out on the boat. I went in the double kayak with my daughter-in-law who is 8 months pregnant & very fit! She did the steering...I also went out with my daughter, who is very swim fit & kept telling me to put a bit more effort into my paddling!  I didn't do too badly with the jogging along the beach - my son was a bit more diplomatic and told me not to worry about keeping up with him.

Saturday, 5 December 2020

An Australian Classic: The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is a 943 page classic and an Australian one at that. It is also a tragedy. The author relentlessly follows the ‘fortunes’ of both Richard Mahony and his wife, Polly (known as Mary later in the book), the ups and downs of their rollercoaster-like lives, the inevitable sadness of their circumstances.

Mahony is an Irish immigrant whose restless nature will never allow him to settle anywhere for very long. Although he is proud and exceptionally thin-skinned, he is at heart a kind man. Mary is originally from England and puts down roots easily. She is loyal, tends to see the best in people and makes the most of circumstances. They are as different as chalk and cheese in many ways but they care for each other and life goes on reasonably well it becomes clear that Mahony will never settle anywhere. 

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony was written between 1917 and 1929 as a trilogy: Australia Felix, The Way Home, and Ultima Thule, but was re-published as one book in 1930. Henry Handel Richardson is the pen name of Ethel Florence Lindsay Richardson (1870-1946).

The book begins during the mid 1800’s gold rush in Ballarat where Mahony works in his store selling supplies to the miners. He had originally qualified as a medical doctor before emigrating to Australia but set that aside for the lure of the goldfields. He meets Mary on a trip to Melbourne when he is in his late twenties and she is only sixteen. They marry soon after meeting and she comes to live in Ballarat.

With his wife’s encouragement, Mahony takes up medical practice again and does very well but his restlessness makes him miserable.  He insists that life in England would be much more suitable for them, culturally and socially. So off they go only for Mahony to find that the grass is not as green as he had thought. Doctors were still not much higher in the social scale than barbers in this 'slow-thinking, slow moving country.' 

‘Long residence in a land where every honest man was the equal of his neighbour had unfitted him for the genuflexions of the English middle-classes before the footstools of the great.’

Although his pride was hurt by the attitude of the people to his profession, he was furious when he learnt that Mary was snubbed by some of the ladies of the town. Studying her objectively, he realised that she was different. Her manner was natural and spontaneous which contrasted to their restraint and it seemed to him that,

'...into all Mary did or said there had crept something large and free - a dash of the spaciousness belonging to the country that had become her true home.'

There are some interesting backdrops to this book: the Victorian goldfields and the Eureka Stockade, the Crimean War, Lister’s experiments in Glasgow, the English class system, and the fear of the Kelly Gang in country Victoria. It touches, too, on the treatment of the mentally ill - asylums were basically prisons and visits by relatives were discouraged. Mahony becomes intensely interested in Spiritualism for a time, attending seances and the like - apparently Ballarat had a small group of very devout believers in the 1800’s. 

There are also many philosophical tangents in the book as Mahony thinks about faith, science and eternity.

It’s interesting reading this in 2020 where the average lifespan is significantly longer than it was in the 1800’s. I kept reading jarring comments about someone being past their prime at 39 years of age ?! and a person was described as ‘very old’ when they were 61 or 62 years old.

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is a very compassionate and in-depth exploration of a marriage. At different times the author allows the couple to share their individual thoughts. I thought this was very well done and helped me to understand both parties. Mahony's personality is so thoroughly explored that even though at times he appears to be a real jerk, one cannot help but feel some empathy. He tended to have flashes of inspiration that came too late:

'For such a touchy nature I'm certainly extraordinarily obtuse where the feelings of others are concerned.'

'To be perpetually in the company of other people irked him beyond belief. A certain amount of privacy was as vital to him as sleep.'

'His first impressions of people - he had had the occasion to deplore the fact before now - were apt to be either dead white or black as ink; the web of his mind took no half tints.'

As time passed, Mahony grew increasingly withdrawn. His work left no time for friendships, so he said, and although his wife was dear to him he missed the companionship an old friendship provided. The 'solid base of joint experience' was gone but his life had become too set to allow him to start building another.

'...the one person he had been intimate with passed out of his life. There was nobody to take the vacant place...He had no talent for friendship.'

Richardson was a gifted woman and an excellent writer. Obviously well-educated, her writing is peppered with allusions to mythology and Latin words. From what I've read of her life, this book has strong undercurrents of her own experiences.

Linking up with Brona for the 2020 AusReading Month.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

The Brother Cadfael Series by Ellis Peters

 Ellis Peters was the nom de plume of Edith Mary Pargeter (1913-1995). I started reading her Brother Cadfael series of Mediaeval whodunnits set in England in the 12th Century about fifteen years ago. They are best read in order, although I haven't done so as the books are not always easy to find here.

Cadfael, originally from Wales, had turned Benedictine monk after life as a soldier and sailor and was well versed in the ways of the world. The earlier books elaborate on this and introduce some characters such as Hugh Beringar - the deputy sheriff and Cadfael’s close friend; Abbot Radulfus and others who re-appear in subsequent books.

The Leper of Saint Giles was written in 1981 and is the Fifth Chronicle of the series. The story is set in the year 1139 when King Stephen was on the throne.

‘He had seen battles, too, in his time in the world, as far afield as Acre and Ascalon and Jerusalem in the first Crusade, and witnessed deaths crueller than disease, and heathen kinder than Christians, and he knew leprosies of the heart and ulcers of the soul worse than any of these he poulticed and lanced with his herbal medicines.’

When visiting the leprosy hospital at Saint Giles to restock their medical supplies, Cadfael arrives just as preparations for a noble wedding are in progress. He witnesses the bridegroom, Huon de Domville, arrive with his entourage. Domville is a shrewd, malevolent man, and quite a bit older than his intended young bride. 

The young woman rides in later, accompanied by her uncle and his wife, her guardians after her father died. Cadfael recognised her as the granddaughter of a famous knight who had fought in the Crusades. It was also obvious to Cadfael that the young girl had had no say in the matter of her marriage and discovers that the girl is secretly in love with one of Domville's squires.

Before the marriage could take place, two deaths occur and Cadfael uses his position and his past to help discover a murderer, absolve an innocent man, uncover a mystery, and unite two lovers.

The Leper of Saint Giles is a satisfying mystery and a tale of treachery with the unique twists and turns that are the hallmark of Ellis Peters.

The Virgin in the Ice is the sixth chronicle in the Cadfael series and was written in 1982. This book reveals a piece of Cadfael's past that should be read before going on to subsequent books. I won't say too much about this book but it could almost be called a thriller.

In the year 1139 King Stephen is on the throne but his cousin, Empress Maude, daughter of Henry I, has an equal claim to the throne. A civil war (the Anarchy) results and refugees have fled from Worcester, the scene of the latest conflict.

Among the refugees are a boy of thirteen, his seventeen year old sister, and a young Benedictine nun. They were known to have been  seeking refuge at Shrewsbury Abbey where Brother Cadfael resides but they fail to arrive. A monk of Cadfael's order is found near death from wounds inflicted by persons unknown and Brother Cadfael is drawn into both mysteries.

This is a gripping book with many false trails and intertwining plots. I thought there was just a wee bit of contrivance and overdone coincidence towards the end but Ellis Peters can get away with it. Her descriptive writing is a pleasure to read and her ability to draw the reader into the wintery, bleak atmosphere of the England of Mediaeval times adds to the appeal of these books.

As Cadfael reflects on his younger days and his time as a soldier in the Holy Land twenty-six years earlier he observes,

'In a land at war with may take it as certain that order breaks down, and savagery breaks out.'

The Virgin in the Ice covers a brutal period of English history and portrays the hardships that fall upon the common people when leadership forgets them. '...where royal kinsfolk are tearing each other for a crown, lesser men will ride the time for their own gain, without scruple or mercy.'

Sunday, 22 November 2020

A Charlotte Mason Highschool: In-between Years 10 & 11

Last month I wrote a post about our Year 10 studies. I'm now thinking about and making plans for Year 11 which Hails won't be starting until next year after a Christmas break. Now, for the interim, we are keeping up with cello lessons and exam preparation for her final exam in the first half of next year.

We started Novare General Biology, a new science curriculum, which I wrote about here and will continue that for the rest of the year and into next. This has inspired an interest in microscopy. We have an average, inexpensive sort of microscope but it has an attachment for a mobile phone so you may photograph what you're observing. This has been a big plus as Hails has an interest in photography and it's easy for everyone else to have a look without adjusting everything each time.

Microbehunter on YouTube has some great videos on all things related to microscopes and microscopy, including some good advice on choosing one suited to your situation (you don't need to spend a lot of money!!) and we've been watching these. He has also reviewed and highly recommends 'The Microbe Hunters,' by Paul de Kruif, a classic book on the major discoveries of the microscopic world that Ambleside Online uses for Years 8 to 11. 

Other books for our interim time:

Economix by Michael Goodwin; Illustrated by Dan E. Burr - we've had this for a few years and my next youngest, who is studying Economics at university, recommended his younger sister read it. It's a light, fun, graphic book on the economy - how economic forces affect you and have shaped history. My husband loves watching the nightly financial news and after reading this book Hails said, 'Now I understand what they're talking about!'

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy - this is her slow read, which isn't her usual style, but she's reading a bit most days and once she was a few chapters in she started to enjoy it. 

World War I: The Rest of the Story and How it Affects You Today by Richard J. Maybury - an interesting perspective on wars and history. This book is followed by his book on World War II which we will use next year also. 

Discretionary Reading:

Escape or Die, The Dam Busters, The Great Escape, and Reach for the Sky by Paul Brickhill (WWII)

We Die Alone by David Howarth (WWII)

The Venetian Affair by Helen MacInnes

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour - a superb book, written by a Palestinian Christian

Nemesis by Agatha Christie

Raw sugar crystals

Something new that I've taken on is working with My Homeschool, an Australian Charlotte Mason Inspired homeschooling curriculum that provides a complete curriculum from Kindergarten up to Year 9 and registration assistance for Australian families all over the country. It was started in 2017 by Michelle Morrow and during this Covid year it has expanded to serve about 600 families. I've been helping to run homeschooling workshops on the Charlotte Mason method via Zoom and just love doing it! 

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Novare General Biology - Review & Giveaway!

Classical Academic Press has added Novare Science and Math to their already excellent educational offerings. I received a copy of Novare General Biology for review purposes and have been using it with my 15-year-old daughter. The book was published this year and is so up to date that it contains an appendix about Covid-19.

The first thing that I noticed was the exceptional quality of the book itself. It is more compact than an average textbook, and is lovely to handle with a sturdy, soft-touch cover and smyth-sewn bindings. The inside is uncluttered with an elegant font and high-quality photographs and diagrams.

Co-authored by Heather Ayala and Katie Rogstad, two home educators with science degrees who are involved in teaching secondary homeschool co-op science classes, it is designed to be used with students in Years 9 to 12 and assumes that they have not yet done courses in high school biology or chemistry.

‘Novare’ is a Latin word that means ‘to renew’ or ‘to begin again,’ and Novare’s whole science curriculum is intent upon transforming how science is taught so that students master and retain what they have learned. As a Charlotte Mason educator I was delighted to read how they do this:

By stressing that science should always begin with Wonder. People usually do not care about what they do not love, and they do not love what they do not know about. Nature study is encouraged to nourish this love and the curriculum offers ideas for activities such as carrying out a Phenology Study throughout the year. Charlotte Mason observed that, 

‘Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value.’ 

By emphasizing Mastery - Novare embeds review and accountability into each of the chapters for material that has already been learned. Their emphasis on quality over quantity allows the student to be given the right amount of work to learn deeply. There is no cramming and learning just to pass a test.

By Integration - English language skills are integrated into science, lab results are written from scratch rather than filling in the blanks. Science isn’t isolated from everything else; historical connections enhance the understanding of science as a process. Learning should not be compartmentalized because education is the science of relationships. Scientists, their theories and discoveries are covered along with technical content. 

Kingdom - we help our students to see the fingerprints of God revealed in nature. Science has a role in leading us towards truth, goodness and beauty. 

‘We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of our students, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.’

General Biology contains 12 Chapters that cover the study of life, atoms and molecules, the cell and the cell cycle, genetics, classification, fungi and plants, animals, human organ systems, ecology and evolution. (see their FAQ’s for more information on how they approach this topic) 

There are also three Appendices:

• Units, Unit Conversions, Significant Digits, and Scientific Notation

• Reference Data - includes measurements and Physical Constants

• The Coronavirus

A feature of the book that I liked is the 'Hmm...Interesting' sections that highlight something connected with the topic in the chapter. For example, when discussing the cell, one of these highlights explains how antibiotics work. Another feature was recommending a living book such as 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' for further reading.

Additional Resources

The Apprentice’s Companion for General Biology - this is designed to accompany the text and includes experiments, lab journal, field notebook, nature notebook ideas, a commonplace book, images of art, poems, and quotes by scientists and naturalists. At the time of writing this review The Apprentice Companion is only available as a download and due to unforeseen delays is incomplete. Chapters will be added to the digital downloads as they are ready and hard copies should be available next year. The Apprentice Companion really enhances the main text and contains information required to implement the practical aspects of the curriculum so I consider it a necessary and excellent resource. 

Digital Resources for General Biology - this includes teacher's notes, planning tools, information about preparing solutions, time requirements, supply substitutions - everything you need whether you are teaching an individual or a group. It also contains photos obtained during pilot runs of the experiments and assessment documentation.

There are some things you will need to complete this curriculum, the most expensive item being a Compound Light Microscope. A digital thermometer and scales and prepared microscope slides (make your own instructions are included) are also required. Novare have used everyday materials where possible to make the experiments manageable e.g. eggs previously left to soak in vinegar are used to demonstrate osmosis. The downloads include a list of materials required for the lab activities and links to a supplier should you wish to purchase items not found in grocery stores.

I asked my daughter to share what she liked about Novare General Biology and this was her reply:

"It doesn’t write down to you, but is still very understandable. The book is thorough and you actually learn and remember things because of how the subject is taught. It’s very interesting and I like the way concepts are explained. There is even a section on Covid-19 which explains it well. I like that it encourages nature study and that it prioritizes quality over quantity. The whole book is very well written."

In Summary

Novare General Biology is a very professional but accessible curriculum for high school students. The  authors recognize that some students can handle more than others therefore teachers should feel free to cut some material from the chapters if necessary.

It is very refreshing to have access to a solid science course that prioritizes wonder and seeks to integrate the humanities into the study of science. Charlotte Mason educators will find this curriculum suits the method. It is challenging, has plenty of hands-on involvement, and is flexible enough to be used with an individual student or in a group situation. Although we've only completed a few of the experiments at the time of writing this review, I think the labs in Novare Biology seem do-able at home. The Chemistry and Physics courses look like they require more in the way of scientific equipment. 

There is a support group for Novare Science on FB where you may post questions about the different courses and lab activities.

If you would like to win a copy of Novare General Biology with its accompanying digital resources:

1) Leave a comment below telling me why you would like to win, or, what aspect of Biology interests you most
2) Enter via this Mailerite link
3) You may also enter via Instagram

The Giveaway closes on the 27th November and the winner will be announced a few days after that.

*Only those living in the contiguous USA are eligible to enter*

Updated: 28/11/2020

Thanks to all who entered & congratulations to Emma who has won the giveaway. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Charlotte Mason Highschool: Handicrafts

"Creativity is not just for artists. Subjects like design and technology, music, art and drama are vitally important for children to develop imagination and resourcefulness, resilience, problem-solving, team-working and technical skills...These are the skills which will enable young people to navigate the changing workplace of the future and stay ahead of the robots, not exam grades." 

The quote above is from an article written two years ago. In the same article a professor who teaches surgery to medical students said that young people need to have a more rounded education, including creative and artistic subjects, where they learn to use their hands. He has noticed a decline in the manual dexterity (muscle memory) of students over the past decade and that it is a big problem for surgeons who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge. Students have become "less competent and less confident" in using their hands.

"We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge."

Handiwork is just as important in the highschool years as it is with younger children. The beauty of working with the hands, whether it be woodwork, felting, patchwork, metal work, or any other type of material, is that it provides a respite for mental work and acts as a pressure release valve for the person whose time is mostly spent studying. It brings balance by working with an entirely different set of skills.

A young person of highschool age also has a wider range of handiwork available to them. They are capable of using tools that a younger child would find difficult to handle and they have a greater awareness of the safety issues involved (hopefully!). There are also more options for lessons. 

Last weekend Hails attended an all day adult workshop on drypoint printing, a form of Intaglio printing. The teacher was quite happy to include her in the group even though she's only 15 years old after I'd chatted to her. The class was a small group of five students she enjoyed the workshop so much that we've registered her for another class on Mosaics early next year. I asked her to do a written narration on the drypoint technique and this is what she wrote: 

Drypoint is a print making technique. By a print I mean an artwork that has gone through a printing press. The materials used in drypoint are a piece of acetate and a special needle with a very sharp, tiny point. Usually a reference image is printed out and placed under the acetate, then the artist traces the image onto the plate with the needle. It makes a very annoying, squeaky sound, as the needle is actually scratching into the acetate. A special drypoint ink is scraped over the top of the plate, forcing the ink into the cuts. Then the ink on the surface is rubbed off and you can see the image start to show up, as the ink is in all the scratches. Then both sides of the acetate are rubbed again to remove any excess ink, and it’s ready to print. The printing press is basically a machine with a large steel roller in the middle to force the ink down onto the paper which sits on a large printing plate underneath the roller. The acetate is placed cut side up on the printing plate, and a piece of paper that has been soaked in water is placed on top. Then three layers of thick, felt-like material is put on top of the printing plate, and it’s time to roll it through. Printing presses have a lever on the side to roll the plate underneath the roller and out the other side. Sometimes the acetate has to be rolled through a second time because not enough ink has been pressed onto the paper. 

When the image has fully transferred to the paper, you take it off the printing press and leave it to dry. Usually you have to make a few copies of the image before it turns out to your satisfaction, because if you leave too much ink on the plate, the image will be smudged, and if you don’t leave enough, the image is too light. 

The composition of the image or drawing is also important. As mentioned before, the image is usually traced onto the acetate, but it can also be drawn freehand. That is probably not wise unless you’ve been doing it for a while, because every scratch you make is going to show up on the image, and if you make a mistake, it’s very obvious.

After experimenting and trying to get the right balance of ink etc., she chose the picture above to frame. 

The workshop also included Lino (relief) printing which is quite different. There's a good explanation of Lino Printing here. 

Charlotte Mason recognised the importance of manual dexterity. Her method stresses relationships; that children need living books and 'things' - handiwork, manual skills, nature walks...and so the teaching and practice of handicrafts should be continued all the way through highschool.

'...we know that the human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is a cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success. We begin to understand this and make some efforts to train the young in the deft handling of tools and the practice of handicrafts.' - A Philosophy of Education.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

AusReading Month 2020


November is the month for all books Australian. and this year the AusReading challenge is back. Brona has suggested ways for us to share our love of Australian literature and has plenty of books to recommend if you need help to get started.

I'm taking the plunge with a door stopping tome (950 pages) from the early 1900's:

The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney by Henry Handel Richardson (the pen name of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson) Set in Victoria

Originally published in three volumes between 1917 and 1929, they were combined into one book under the above title which was published in 1930.

Some other Australian books I've read in recent months but haven't blogged about yet, but hopefully might during November, are the following:

The Lake House by Kate Morton (2001) Set in England; Australian author

The Commandant by Jessica Anderson (1975) Set in Brisbane, QLD

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill (2020) Australian author

The Far Country by Nevil Shute (1952) Set in Victoria

For details of the AusReading Month please check out Brona's Books. Hope you join us. It's a no pressure challenge to showcase the literary goodness that can be found Downunder.

Monday, 26 October 2020

Charlotte Mason Highschool: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)

The Outsiders is a coming of age sort of story which works really well, probably because the author wrote the book when she was just seventeen years old. It is told very simply and directly from the viewpoint of Ponyboy, a fourteen year old ‘Greaser.’ The author captures the main character’s  personality and concerns so well and so naturally.

Ponyboy lives with his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop. Their parents were killed in a car accident and twenty year old Darry has taken on the role of keeping the family together. He is bent on avoiding any situation that would give an opportunity for the authorities to send the younger boys off to boys’ homes. He has had to grow up fast and work hard and Ponyboy, not understanding his older brother’s situation, believes he doesn't care and sees everything he does as unnecessary interference in his life.

Something that really struck me about this book was the value placed on the role of parents. This isn’t something you’d normally encounter in a book dealing with the struggles of adolescence and it was quite refreshing.

‘Darry and Sodapop were my brothers and I loved both of them, even if Darry did scare me; but not even Soda could take Mom and Dad’s place.’

Johnny was the Greaser gang’s pet, everyone’s kid brother. His father was always beating him and his mother ignored him unless she was angry and then she just yelled.

He could stay out all night and nobody would notice. When Ponyboy complained about his older brother, Johnny said, ‘I ain’t got nobody,’ 

Ponyboy was startled out of his misery: got the whole gang. Dally didn’t slug you tonight ‘cause you’re the pet. I mean, golly, Johnny, you got the whole gang.’

‘It ain’t the same as having your own folks care about you,’ Johnny said simply. ‘It just ain’t the same.’

The Greasers were from the poorer side of town while their rival gang, the 'Socs,' were well-heeled and drove around in cars looking for Greasers to fight with. The two gangs were continually warring with each other but one night one of them was killed and everything changed for Ponyboy. Two gang members ended up on the run and suddenly it was no longer 'us' and 'them.' Ponyboy's former enemies are just like him - human.  

'Soda fought for fun, Steve for hatred, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity. Why do I fight? I thought, and couldn’t think of any real good reason. There isn’t any real good reason for fighting except self-defence.’

The Outsiders is a quick but memorable read suitable for around the age of 15 yrs and up. 

I first heard about the book when I hosted a ‘Mum Culture’ evening where a group of us discussed some of our most memorable reads. The gist of The Outsiders was mentioned, although the title had been forgotten and immediately someone else jumped in and said, “I loved that book!” and told everyone the title. So of course, I had to it check it out.

The ultimate test came when I gave it to my 15 year old daughter to read and she gave it her tick of approval also.

(I happened to notice that Ambleside Online has it as a free read in Year 11. I missed that in previous years so I don’t know if its been added lately or I just didn’t see it.)

Sunday, 18 October 2020

A Light in the Window by Jan Karon (1995)

A Light in the Window 
is the second book in Jan Karon’s beloved Mitford series. At Home in Mitford introduced Father Tim, Mitford’s rector and lifelong bachelor, and this book continues developing the characters and relationships that were introduced in there.

Father Tim’s relationship with his delightful neighbour, Cynthia, is getting more serious but there are some complications that arise, one of them being a wealthy and manipulative widow who has her eyes on the poor rector and seeks to beguile him with her gourmet cooking. An Irish cousin turns up unexpectedly, plants her uninvited self firmly in place, and proceeds to behave very strangely. Then there is Father Tim’s own personal struggles as he wrestles with his future and contemplates the words of C.S.Lewis, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

‘In all the years of his priesthood, he had pastored the need of others. Now, he found himself pastoring others to meet his own needs.’

Father Tim is in his early 60’s and had been diagnosed with diabetes in At Home With Mitford. His relationship with his neighbour is blossoming but he has difficulty with intimacy and there are frequent allusions to his relationship with his father, a cold and distant man.

‘He believed he had never married because he was married to his calling. The truth was, he had a complete lack of the equipment demanded for truly loving.’

There is much humour scattered through this book even as it deals with serious issues. I enjoyed reading about the interactions in a small country town, the way the author deals with the ordinariness of life, its ups and downs, its hopes and disappointments, and the daily living out of a life of faith.

An aspect of this book that I liked is that Cynthia sees past the exterior of a man who is a bit overweight and has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, to see someone who is worth getting to know. She bypasses Andrew Gregory, a suave, articulate man-about town and chooses the unlikely Father Tim instead. It takes a while for Father Tim to realise this!

‘Diabetes was the sorriest of infirmities to drag to a dinner party.’

‘What was he, after all, when you came down to it, but a country parson? Not tall and trim and debonair like Andrew Gregory, who owned a closetful of cashmere jackets, could speak Italian, French, and a bit of Russian, and drove a Mercedes the size of a German tank.’

I’m looking forward to slowly reading my way through this refreshing and gentle series of fourteen books.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Charlotte Mason Highschool - a 15 Year Old's Year

This is a review of what we've done this year. It's based on Ambleside Online Year 10 but with some adaptions for Australian content, personal interests, and substitutions I wanted to make - books I have and wanted to use or thought were important to include. I've linked to reviews or thoughts I've shared on some of the books.


The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis - a great book for a teen reader; full of humour but deadly serious!

By Searching by Isobel Kuhn - autobiography of a missionary to China that concentrates on the struggles of faith in her youth. I like to include a Christian biography each year and also a book that is set or focussed on the Asia Pacific region. This book worked for both categories.

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin - we took turns reading this aloud: 'How to Study the Bible With Both Our Hearts & Minds.'

How Should We Then Live by Francis A. Schaeffer. I've used this now with all seven of our children. It's a book I think is very important as it traces key moments in the history of Western culture and the thinking of the people behind those moments in order to shed light on modern times. Schaeffer draws on his study of theology, philosophy, history, sociology and the arts in this work.


The Great Democracies by Winston Churchill

A Short History of Australia by Ernest Scott - out of print but online here. We used this book last year, the relevant chapters for this year and will continue with it for the first part of Year 11.

Killer Angels by Michael Shaara - the American Civil War. This was a free read because we had the book and Hails wanted to read it.


Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey. We also watched The Young Victoria, the 2009 production which concentrated on the lead up to Victoria's coronation and her marriage to Albert. I read Queen Victoria by Lucy Worsley thinking I could possibly use that but it had too much information on the improprieties of some of the royals for a 15 year old. A pity as it also touched on many other important characters of the time such as Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone although there were chapters I could have assigned that would have worked but I felt we'd covered enough in the end.

L'Abri by Edith Schaeffer - a book I wanted to include at some point so I used it this year.

Science & Natural History

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - we started this last year and finished it in Term 1 of this year.  I read it aloud and it was engaging and an excellent book to discuss.

Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif -  as per AO schedule

The Planets by Dava Sobel - a very literary guide to the planets. The author obviously loves her subject but she does wax very lyrical so I wasn't sure if Hails would enjoy it but she did and it inspired many written narrations. 

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman - a beautifully illustrated book about Maria Merian, an artist, adventurer and scientist in 17th century Europe.

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman -  I wasn't expecting Hails to like this but she has so far. We started it later than scheduled and will finish it in the next couple of months.

Nature Studies in Australia by William Gillies - we finished this earlier in the year. 

The Wilderness by Amy Mack - a very short book (26 pages) Read aloud

Exploring Creation With Physical Science by Jay Wile - very good for experiments.

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot - I've been reading this series aloud for a couple of years. We've just started the next book, 'All Things Wise and Wonderful.' Hilarious and touching memoirs of a Yorkshire vet in the early to mid 1900's.


I wrote about our archaeological studies a la Charlotte Mason here. Our main book has been God, Graves & Scholars by C. W. Ceram. We also made use of the free Dig School resources that were offered during COVID.

We continued with 50 Architects You Should Know that we started two years ago and finished it earlier this year.


Eothen by Alexander Kingslake 

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson - we didn't finish this one (16 out of 29 Chapters). I bought the book at the end of our U.K. trip last year thinking it would be a great way to re-live some of the places we visited but in the end I was sick of the author's lewd, crude and obnoxious comments, not to mention his deplorable behaviour towards others on his travels through the U.K. in 1995. Very disappointing as we really liked his The Short History of Nearly Everything but he whined and complained in almost every chapter in this book and I had to edit so much on the fly I got fed up!! Not recommended and I'm not the only one who felt that way - I checked out Goodreads later. Apparently he must have lost the plot with this one.

We regularly use Seterra for map drills.

Australian Literature

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - I read this years ago and thought it was 'O.K.' but Hails really enjoyed it. I liked the movie a lot more so we'll watch that some time soon.

Pied Piper, Trustee From the Toolroom and No Highway by Nevil Shute. These books weren't set here but I included them as an introduction to Shute who made his home here. The books I've read that have an Aussie setting are a little too mature for a 15 yr old, I think.

All the Green Year by Don Charlwood - a coming of age Aussie story.

General Literature

We used all the suggestions in AO Year 10 except Uncle Tom's Cabin and added In This House of Brede, which she loved, Mary Barton, and Martin Chuzzlewit. I didn't require narrations from these.

Shakespeare's Henry V - the play and then we watched the Kenneth Branagh DVD

Short Stories - I chose four from the AO selections

Essays - selections from AO and from God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis


Plutarch - the Life of Alexander - this was one of the best lives we've read!

Ourselves by Charlotte Mason

One Blood by Ken Ham, Carl Wieland & Don Batten

How to Read a Book

The Deadliest Monster - liked this very much

Invitation to the Classics

Personal, Career, and Financial Security by Richard J. Maybury


How Not to Diet by Dr Michael Greger - whole foods, plant based

HIIT sessions with me

Swimming several times a week


Musicianship & AMEB Studies for the cello
Folksongs & Hymns

The Arts by Van Loon

Picture Study - I put together a Charlotte Mason style study on the Australian artist Tom Roberts.

Masterpiece Society - we've used their watercolour and acrylic courses and they are very good for teaching technique. (affiliate link)

Free Reads

Hails is a very fast and voracious reader and I can't keep up with her but her favourite books lately are: 
Anything and everything by P. G. Wodehouse
Agatha Christie re-reads
Regina Doman's fairy tale retellings (the first two only at the moment)
Books by John Flanagan (The Ranger's Apprentice etc.)
The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour
Witch Wood by John Buchan - one of the very few of this author's books she hadn't read before.

This year she read some more Dickens (who hasn't been her favourite author) and is in the process of reading War & Peace by Tolstoy.

I asked her to write about some of her favourite books and here is what she wrote: Ten Favourite Books of a 15 Year Old.

I've read and heard comments that using the Charlotte Mason method in highschool doesn't provide a rigorous enough education - it's too gentle, doesn't cover STEM subjects, won't prepare kids for university etc., etc. I really don't agree, if you provide a broad feast with enough of a challenge and plenty of living books to provide the mental sustenance a young person needs.


Monday, 28 September 2020

Nature Study: Spring in Australia

Hails and I finished our 6 week Natural History Illustration course offered by the University of Newcastle this month and we are planning to join a session with a Nature Club in October via Zoom. Covid has opened up some online educational opportunities that weren't available to us before, and they've been free, too. A bush walk during the first week in spring was too early to spot many wildflowers but a week later they were all out in their splendour.


One of our Natural Illustration assignments - quick field sketches. My kookaburra did not cooperate. 
My page is the one with the large blank section!

A trip to the beach. We were sitting outside the fish and chip shop and this pelican came along to check out the menu. 

He decided it looked pretty good and went in to place his order

This is his usual eating hole

Interesting sculpted rocks

A wee froggie that jumped out of some washing I had hanging outside

Notebooking our spring flowers

A couple of suspicious looking characters hanging around the neighbourhood