Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Weeklong Whirlwind Tour

Hilary, Hope, and Hannah
by Megan Hoyt

It began simply enough. I am privileged to live among a group of sojourners who travel the Charlotte Mason road alongside me, urging me forward toward a life filled with joy in the Holy Spirit, compassion for the less fortunate, and fellowship with likeminded lovers of God.

It's a beautiful circle of friendship that is ever-widening.

But this has been a whirlwind week, despite my belief in unhurried education and savoring life. My first stop was Harvest Community School in South Carolina. Harvest is heavily influenced by the method and principles of Charlotte Mason, and it shows. The students are alive with wonder and curiosity. The teachers are thrilled that they get to participate in the lives of these precious kids!

I attended Provender's Clockwise Retreat at Harvest Community School on Monday, where I cherished my time with beloved friends and a few new friends, too. We spent the day immersed in the life of a child at school. It was a sacred time.

Hildegard session followed by a book signing
I was privileged to speak about my favorite Medieval composer, Hildegard of Bingen, and the teachers were so receptive to my words. They seemed to really drink it in, which is exactly what I had hoped would happen. I wanted others to fall in love with this woman's life and gifts, as I have. We tried to sing a chant together, with mixed results! It's harder than it appears!

Learning about Hildegard, the herbalist and healer
After I was done, instead of feeling relief, as I sometimes do when I've finished any sort of public speaking (it's not my favorite thing to do!) I felt exhilarated, as if I could have spent hours with this band of sisters. And one brother! Let's not forget him! We ended our time together watching herons fly across the lake in a storm. The mystery, strength, and majesty of God was at hand. But as time rules our lives to a certain extent, I had to leave the lake house and my friends and return to North Carolina for the next leg of my journey.

The lovely women of Provender's Clockwise Retreat
I'm teaching sixth grade this fall, and I had a week of teacher training to attend. The teachers around me were so welcoming and friendly that I felt honored to be among them. Many of them are former missionaries, so at lunch I was able to hear their stories. It was the next best thing to being there myself. I also learned that I have a lot to learn about school life, but that's okay. In time, I'm sure the systems and regulations will sink in. If not, I'm sure someone will correct me.

The next day we drove to Atlanta for the Child Light Schools Conference, where I met up with some old friends yet again. Bobby Scott leads Perimeter Schools of Atlanta and beyond -- Tanzania and Guatemala and who knows what is to come. We learned drybrush painting, learned about narration and picture study, and received a warm welcome from Bobby. What a treat! Just as I finished telling the gals at my table that I can't seem to get the picture from my head to my hand to the paper via the paintbrush, I found I was able to recreate the Maple leaf I was painting really well. True confession: in all my years of educating a la Charlotte Mason, I had never been brave enough to attempt drybrush watercolor painting. I often worked behind the scenes at conferences and events, so I wasn't in the sessions where it was taught before. But here, at Perimeter School in Atlanta, among faithful friends and sitting beside Arborbrook's art teacher, the lovely Mary Beekman, I found my rhythm, my courage, my success. 
My Maple leaf!
Now that I'm home again, planning my school year, decorating my classroom, and praying for my students, it's settling in that I will be able to once again impart the richness of a Charlotte Mason education to another group of eager children. How glorious that I get to live this sort of life. Here are a few things I'm planning to talk about with the children after we meet.

This is the bit that takes a morsel or two of work and skill:

1. Attentive Reading
2. Close Observation
3. Careful Listening
4. Detailed Narration
5. Steady Effort
6. Perfect Execution
7. Practiced Recitation
8. Quiet Reverence

But the magical part comes when you treat a child as a person of value, when you respect a child's natural ability and giftedness yet gently tug at his heart to grow in skill and courage, just like I did; when you give a child the gift of an unhurried education, the sort I learned about from Melanie and Laurie during our time together on Monday at the Clockwise Retreat in South Carolina. I learned what a day is for at a Charlotte Mason school. I learned how to share and impart what needs to be shared and then stand aside and let the children soak and bask in it while the Holy Spirit connects their hearts to the material. That requires really great material. I've been working on that part, too. Along with the phenomenal books Arborbrook Academy has provided for my students, I am bringing in some primary sources, music, art, drama, and dance (don't tell the boys!) to my classroom. I think it's going to be a great year!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Charlotte Mason Method -- explained by C. D. Lawe, Headmistress of St. Agnes School

Babbacombe Bay, Torquay, UK

C.D. Lawe, Headmistress of St. Agnes School, Babbacombe, Torquay, explained the PNEU method this way:

"Spontaneous activity in their studies, a habit of concentration, and versatility of mind that can make a success of any work undertaken, a keen zest and joy of life in all its phases, and a sense of independence and responsibility for their own lives in relation to their family, their school and their country -- these fulfill what has been said to be the purpose of Education which 'should be to lead a child into the fullest, truest, noblest and most fruitful relations of which he is capable, with the world in which he lives.' "

I thought I'd sit under this interpretation of the method for a bit and ruminate on it for a while. Won't you join me?

The purpose of education should be to lead a child into the fullest, truest, noblest, and most fruitful relations of which he is capable, with the world in which he lives. 

I see this time and again in the classes I teach. When a student can form strong, fruitful relationships with the world in which he lives, he's apt to feel more confident and able as he goes about in the world, and I think that's important. When he can relate to the subject matter, he is more apt to take it in fully, to make it part of him, to feel it tinged with emotion and to experience it with fresh vigor and great understanding. 

The Science of Relations means students form strong bonds with the material, with the heroes and characters, both good and evil, in their well-written, living books. And full, true, noble, fruitful relations are only made when the material is noble and magnanimous or at least the stories or tales include a noble hero. This is often missing from our schools today, I think. Where are the heroes? We want someone to root for and we want to see that someone win in the end or help someone else win. We want our students to see self-sacrifice, humility, wisdom, joy, love, depth, courage. The list goes on and on. Here's what we don't want: discouragement, weakness, hate, boredom, lackluster books, unengaged students. 

*Spontaneous activity in their studies

*A habit of concentration

*Versatility of mind that can make a success of any work undertaken

*A keen zest and joy of life in all its phases

*A sense of independence and responsibility for their own lives in relation to their family, their school, and their country

These are all such wonderful byproducts of a Charlotte Mason education, aren't they? Versatility of mind and a keen zest and joy of life in all its phases. This life of ours is absolutely magnificent! We wouldn't spend hours studying how to accomplish it and live it out if this method wasn't worthwhile. 

Here's how Ms. Lawe says we're to go about making this method work for our students:

"As physical actions constantly repeated become habit, and those actions automatic, so mental activities too become automatic, and those faculties of reason, judgment, imagination and the like are brought into play naturally through the achieved habits of attention, concentration, assimilation and reproduction.

The choice of what a child should learn is not limited. He is to be put in touch with every sort of knowledge to which man is heir. For that reason, the programme of work sent out every term for the members of the Parents Union School covers an enormously wide field of knowledge; Knowledge of God, of Man and of Nature, those three great relations of every human soul." 

Have you ever purposefully made a memory? I mean, set out to have a memorable time with your children or students by creating or crafting a learning environment or situation that you thought was going to induce them to grasp a concept more fully than if you had not created such an atmosphere? 

That can backfire. The fondest memories I have are those that happened spontaneously. Yes, I laid some groundwork. Not denying that. But you can't force a child to remember something for the rest of his life. It's learning touched with emotion that supplies the motivation for that. 

Putting in touch... That's what we're to do. Put the child in touch with every sort of knowledge that man is heir to. But don't force it or craft the perfect lesson to induce him to learn the material. He can see through that! And will, as Miss Mason says, "Mulishly" rebel against learning that particular truth. It's human nature to try to avoid working hard on boring things. But a rich, broad, varied curriculum will make them salivate for more. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

True Confessions of a Modern Day Internet Junkie

A simple ornament. Handmade. Delicate. I slid it onto the doorknob of my back door and watched it swing back and forth each time my son slipped into the back yard. It was a gift from a dear friend who lives far from me.

She thought of me and sent it.

I think about doing such things but the busyness of each day forces those thoughts inward. They sink like stones deep inside my heart, that heart which, once soft and gentle, gets a little more heavy with each passing day.

Then I got sick.

I spent the first two days of bed rest watching movies and talking over serious issues on Facebook. I felt like one of those characters from the movie Wall-E. The ones who enjoyed the laid back life, resting in their easy chairs, sliding around sipping sodas and shooting the breeze.

Then I remembered all the things I had intended to do for my family at Christmastime. It came flooding in -- the pressures of shopping, the baking, cooking, decorating, caroling, church going -- it swirled in my head. I was dizzy with regret.

I got up and tried to bake the simplest something but ended up back in bed.

I told my daughter. Here's what she said: "I would be happy to bake for you!" The burden was lifted. But something was still wrong. I faced several questions about the depth of my own soul and life.

What is filling my days instead of the things I believe in?

As I had time to take stock, I looked around. I have shelves upon shelves of books. You might call me a bibliophile or a book collector or maybe just a hoarder, I don't know. I read a lot. And I am online a lot. In fact, my son confronted me head on with this ugly fact a few days ago when I told him I missed him because he was always heading upstairs to his room.

"You're always sitting there with your laptop anyway. I might as well be upstairs."

I could almost hear the zing of the remark as he flung it with arrow-like precision at my heart. It stung. Not because he intended to hurt me but because it was so accurate.

It's not that I'm addicted to Facebook and blogging so much as that I miss my friends who live in other states. That's what I told myself all day, anyway. And I'm a writer, so I have to be online for a significant amount of time each day. That one made perfect sense. But my son is almost 17 years old. When did I intend to spend quality time with him? And worse, this Charlotte Mason education I believe so wholeheartedly in was crashing down around me.

Nature Study?
Viewing great art?
Studying composers?

I spent much time reading about all these things and very little time actually doing them. I can tell you exactly HOW to teach using the Charlotte Mason method. I really can.

But I don't often DO it.

I am watching life. Writing about life. Reading living books about life.

But I am not living.

Some say introversion is to blame. We philosophical intellectuals enjoy sipping tea and thinking things through. That takes time. We need time to sit around and contemplate the meaning of the universe.

That is true!

But we are called as Christians to live in community. To serve others less fortunate, not merely by making donations to charity but by touching the lives of other people. Literally touching them -- a hand grasped in prayer, a shaking hand held while a child is in surgery, an encouraging hug. We are the hands and feet of our Lord.

As I recover from this bout of sickness, I make this promise to my family, friends, neighbors, and to God. I choose to live fully, love deeply, walk humbly, and learn and grow along with my fellow sojourners.

That is all.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, Irena Sendler, Bronislaw Huberman, and the Beauty of Moral Training

I'm so excited about the Carnival this time around because we get to talk about Moral Education. This is an area that sort of trumps all others, really, second only to Spiritual Training. Here are some fantastic blog posts from experienced, seasoned educators that offer a lot of food for thought as we learn and grow in this area of our journey. And we also have a few great posts that are off the main topic. I love what you all had to say!

Here's a beautiful post about how to instill a love for God in the hearts of our children from Penney.

And from Amy, a thought-provoking post on Moral Training.

And here's a great post about lying and moral training among those on the autism spectrum from Tammy. She shares more about math in this post from her new "rarefied" blog, which I love because I am particularly math-challenged!

A post from Carol with lots of food for thought. And a bonus -- a lovely post on the power of poetry.

What a gift -- a wonderful look at Conscience from Nebby in this post.

Here's a lovely post that takes a closer look at the Mother's Course and the value of women as persons and their role in the lives of their children. Thank you, Nancy!

Liz takes us on a journey through a few inspiring living books and learns a little something herself in this post.

Cindy shares her thoughts on preparing your students to narrate in this post.

And from Celeste, a post about The Living Page, an exploration of the importance of being a keeper.

I could write a blog post about what Charlotte Mason said about Moral Training -- how she recommended reading biographies of heroes and fiction where a hero rises to the occasion, exhibiting courage, ingenuity, and strength of moral judgment.

Or I could just introduce you to Irena Sendler and Bronislaw Huberman.

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler was a Polish social worker during the Holocaust. She personally rescued 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto -- children who would have faced certain death under the Nazi regime because they were Jewish. We've all heard of Oskar Schindler, who saved 1000 of his employees during the war. But who among us remembers Irena Sendler who saved more than twice that many people, all of them innocent children? She would inevitably have slipped into oblivion, her selfless work on behalf of these precious children dying along with her memory, but for four young girls in Kansas whose teacher asked them to write a ten minute play. They chose to write about Irena Sendler. I'm not even sure how they found out about her, but once they did, the world finally knew what we already knew -- strong moral character is caught, not taught.

Irena's father was a doctor. He refused to stop treating his Jewish patients, despite the laws being enacted against it. Young Irena was paying attention. She said later that it was her father's quiet, stubborn refusal to bow to this unjust law that led her to decide to risk her life to save Jewish children in Warsaw. She said her father always told her, "If you see someone who is drowning, you jump in and rescue them, even if you don't know how to swim."

Irene passed away in 2008 at the age of 98, and thanks to these four young girls in Kansas, she will be remembered always.

Bronislaw Huberman

Bronislaw Huberman was a brilliant violinist with a bright future ahead of him, but for one thing. He was Jewish. Banned from performing in Germany, despite his international acclaim, he struggled with what to do next. Sure, he could have escaped to America or England, but he was haunted by the faces of his fellow Jewish musicians. After a tour took him to Palestine, he knew what he must do -- help musicians escape from Eastern Europe and Germany to Palestine.

He created the Orchestra of Exiles and filled it with famous musicians who had been forced out of their symphonies because they were Jewish. He stopped touring, losing out on millions of dollars, and chose instead to rescue people with no hope of leaving otherwise. Even Arturo Toscanini was on his side. As he built this magnificent new orchestra in Palestine, he risked his life bringing others to freedom -- aunts, uncles, parents, and siblings of his fellow musicians. His new orchestra was filled with people who had left families behind and they were desperate to escape the Nazi regime and certain death, too.

Bronislaw Huberman was a hero who sacrificed his own success to save the lives of others.

But what distinguished Irena Sendler and Bronislaw Huberman from all the other people around them who did NOT choose to get involved in the resistance or rescue operations? That is the key to true moral training, it seems to me.

Huberman, unlike Sendler, did not have a happy family life. His father died when he was still quite young, and he suffered from depression and loneliness. This drove him to see the pain and anguish in other people's lives and feel it as keenly as he felt his own. He once said that upon touring in war-torn Europe during WWI, his heart was changed. He saw the devastation, heard the cries of young children, felt the suffering of his fellow man. He saw it firsthand and was forever changed.

I think there's something to that. Seeing hunger and deprivation firsthand is different than watching a brief commercial on tv about it. So maybe one way we can develop strong moral character within the hearts of our students is to actually show them what poverty and lack really are like.

Whether it's from reading a brilliant biography, real life experience, or watching and learning from parents who are strong examples of ethical behavior, I can see why Miss Mason finds moral training of the utmost importance. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you find out what's really inside you. Is it courage or cowardice? Until tested, we may never know. But we can learn from Irena Sendler and Bronislaw Huberman's shining examples what strength of character truly looks like.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tender Affliction: How it Spread Like Mad and Infected my Children...

It all began when I was about eight years old. My parents were members of the Dallas Symphony, and they were part of the pit orchestra for the Dallas Opera's performance of Samson et Delia. Either my parents didn't believe in babysitters, didn't want to pay babysitters, or they just liked having me around. I'll never know. But they took me with them to the performance this time, and I was comfortably seated on a backstage stool when my dad took me by the hand and said, "Come with me."

It was intermission. He walked me across the stage and down the steps to the velvet seats in the music hall at Fair Park. "I spotted some empty seats, and it's so late now that I know they'll remain empty," he said. I sat down and smoothed my fingers across the soft, maroon-colored velvet. I rocked gently. The lights dimmed. The orchestra tuned. The opera singers took the stage.

I don't remember much about this night because all previous memories fled during the final scene where Samson cries out with a loud voice, sings his heart out, and shoves the pillars until the entire set falls to the ground with an enormous thud. I shivered. Tears gathered in the corners of my eyes. It was an incredible moment.

That was the night I fell in love with opera.

I know it's silly, but I just watched it again and cried. AGAIN. After all these years. That's the power of opera to move you. Here is that final scene:

And here is the famous duet from Saint-Saens' Samson et Delia, Mon Coeur S'ouvre a ta Voix. Hopefully, it will be familiar to you.

My heart was torn. It was diseased. Infected. Crushed. Pulsing with passion. I was afflicted with a malady that defied all eight-year-old logic. I was magically, completely, wholeheartedly in love with opera. And the disease was about to spread. 

Years later, longing for some deep music study for my children, I enrolled them in the Choir School at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Charlotte, NC. It was a tough program! They had to study hard each year to earn ribbons and progress through levels of music theory and its application. Not only that, they were required to learn solfege, to my great delight. Their teacher, Carol Lillard, was patient and kind but firm. And they learned. And grew. 

Then it happened. 

 The choir director was asked if his choirs might participate in an Opera Carolina performance of Tosca by Puccini. He said yes and off the children went to be fitted with wigs, costumes, and shoes. They rehearsed for what seemed like hours each day until they knew the piece backwards and forwards. It was called Te Deum. You can watch it about three minutes into the video below. But the version they performed here in North Carolina used lavish sets imported from Italy. The kids were in utter awe. Never had they performed in a professional opera, much less in full costume with gorgeous scenery. 

Here is Luciano Pavarotti singing one of the tenor arias from Puccini's Tosca. He's divine in the role of Cavaradossi and his most famous aria, Nessun Dorma, is also by Puccini, from his last opera, Turandot. Many thanks to Mr. Pavarotti for leaving us such a delectable legacy as this. Here is E Lucevan de Stelle, or I Never Loved Life so Much (sung on the eve of his execution). Can't get more dramatic than that, except, perhaps, the following gorgeous rendition of Nessun Dorma from Central Park in NYC. (below)

The kids went on to perform with Opera Carolina again, this time as supernumeraries, which is just a fancy word for people with a walk on role who don't speak or sing. Extras for crowd scenes. The opera was The Pearl Fishers, by Georges Bizet. Once again, they were enthralled. The music, the singers, the dancers, the costumes, the wigs, the makeup (full body makeup so they would look Indonesian). Here is the famous Au Fond du Temple Saint duet from Bizet's Pearl Fishers. There's no video, but it's my favorite version because of the tone and technical genius of these two performers. Once you begin your opera journey, you'll start noticing things like tessitura and coloratura. And your personal preferences will develop alongside your love of opera. This performance is by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill.

Next, our daughters and one of our sons auditioned for the local community college's opera program. They sang entire operas as chorus members. What joy! Our daughter Hilary remained involved with Opera Carolina, performing in La Boheme even when she had to get there through a blizzard. She was almost the only member of the "band" there that night! What dedication. 

Pirates of Penzance
Tales of Hoffman
Marriage of Figaro

Their love was deepening. Crescendoing. It was lovely to behold, as a Charlotte Mason educator and as a parent. And, I should say, as the daughter of symphony musicians. My parents have both passed away, so I feel a tender whisper of delight brush over me each time one of our children performs in an opera, an orchestra, or any musical performance. Our youngest son is an excellent drummer, guitarist, and singer. The opportunities are going to be endless, and it all began with Samson et Delia in a darkened auditorium filled with a hushed audience in Dallas, Texas. Little did I know how deep the veins of gold would go within my heart and soul -- or how actively our family would mine them.

The Educational Bits

To address what Charlotte Mason would say about studying Music, Opera, and Composers in general, is simple. 

Go to live performances. Often. 

Listen to the works of the same composer repeatedly for a season until you develop a deep affinity for him (or her). 

I would add to that participating in operas, taking voice lessons, singing arias, and developing relationships with your local opera company, or even with a company further away if you live in a small town or rural area. Our family got to know Maestro Meena here in Charlotte through talks he gave before or after each performance. We developed a relationship with him. Then, to our great surprise, we discovered we had a mutual friend and ran into him at a party. What a treat that was. You'd be amazed at how open professional musicians can be to interacting with children who show an interest. We are raising the next generation of classical music lovers, and that interests them greatly. 

Here's a thought. Let's learn an aria together, just you and me. It's called Vissi D'arte. You can download the music here. And here it is in Italian, then in English:

Italian Text

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
Con man furtiva
quante miserie conobbi aiutai.

Sempre con fè sincera
la mia preghiera
ai santi tabernacoli salì.
Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl’altar.

Nell’ora del dolore
perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè me ne rimuneri così?

Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto agli astri, al ciel,
che ne ridean più belli.
Nell’ora del dolor
perchè, perchè, Signor,
ah, perchè me ne rimuneri così?

English Translation of "Vissi d'Arte"

I lived for my art, I lived for love,
I never did harm to a living soul!
With a secret hand
I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of.
Always with true faith
my prayer
rose to the holy shrines.
Always with true faith
I gave flowers to the altar.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?
I gave jewels for the Madonna’s mantle,
and I gave my song to the stars, to heaven,
which smiled with more beauty.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
ah, why do you reward me thus?

Won't you listen and learn with me? If you're joining me, please leave a note in the comments. I'd love to know! God bless you and have a great week!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Ragged Schools of Scotland: A Dickensian Dream fulfilled

by Megan Hoyt

Thomas Guthrie's "Ragged Theology" was a new concept in 1800s Scotland, but we see glimpses of it throughout Charlotte Mason's writings. Did you know that? I didn't -- until a couple of weeks ago when I fell in love with Ragged Schools! Gentle whispers throughout the pages of each of Miss Mason's volumes woo us toward magnanimous thinking, toward proffering ideas to children instead of speed drills, toward seeing the infinite value of a human being instead of his utility to the state. 

Miss Mason believed every living soul deserved to access the great minds of the past -- the great art, music, literature, inventions, poetry, and all the glorious ideas that came before them.  But just prior to the time she began saying such things, Thomas Guthrie and Andrew Walker were heading into Edinburgh's slums to offer the Gospel to those who thought themselves beyond reach, who others didn't even bother with -- the nameless, faceless poor. Guthrie wrote about one man's response to the Gospel in his autobiography. What a beautiful recognition this gentleman had! May we all have such tender souls as this grace-filled man!

"He rose, bowed down by a sense of sin, in great distress of mind; he would go to the church that day, but being a man of a very tender conscience, he hesitated about going to the Lords table; deep was answering to deep at the noise of God's waterspouts, and all God's billows and waves were going over him; he was walking in darkness, and had no light.  In this state he proceeded to put himself in order for church, and while washing his hands, one by one, he heard a voice say, 'Cannot I, in my blood, as easily wash your soul, as that water wash your hands?' 'Now Minister,' he said, in telling me this, 'I do not say there was a real voice, yet I heard it very distinctly, word for word, as you now hear me.  I felt a load taken off my mind, and went to the Table and sat under Christ's shadow with great delight.' " (Thomas Guthrie, Memoir and Autobiography, 1896, p 115.)  

Once I began reading about Ragged Schools, the idea clung to my heart. I hope one day to bring some level of hope to America's struggling poor, the way Andrew Walker did in Scotland: 

London City Mission Magazine  
for May 1, 1896

We have received intelligence also of the death of another servant of Christ, who at one time did earnest effective work as a London City Missionary. A gentleman in Edinburgh writes:-

On the 3rd of February there died at City Troy, New York State, at the patriarchal age of eighty-nine, Mr. Andrew Walker, well known fifty years ago as the pioneer of the Ragged Schools in Westminster.

He was born at Craigsford, Earlston, a pretty village in Berwickshire, July 20th, 1807, and partly educated in the village at the same school which the famous Dr. Waugh, of Wells Street, London, had attended half a century before.

When the time came for choosing a calling, he became, like Robert Moffat, a gardener. His first engagement was at Newton Don, his last in Scotland at Camperdown . . . From Camperdown he went to Hans Place, London. Wandering one day through the narrow lanes and courts of Westminster that lay to the south of the Abbey, he was so impressed with the signs of vice and misery all around him, than he resolved he would make it his life’s work to do what he could to bring light and liberty to the region.

He gave up his occupation at Chelsea, entered the London City Mission, November, 1838, and began his work within the district bounded by Clare Street, Orchard Street, Strutton Ground, and Great Peter Street.

Mr. Walker remained there for fourteen years, and during that time, by the blessing of God on his labours, effected a most remarkable change in the inhabitants. When he went there were six public-houses, one of them having a thieves’ training school attached to it, after the manner of that described by Dickens in “Oliver Twist.”

His first place of meeting was in an old stable . . . By the kindness of Lady Trowbridge, part of it was fitted up for girls. Lady Hope provided sixty of the children with articles of clothing. On the opening day many titled people were there, and Robert Moffat - home on furlough - addressed the children.

Mr. Walker was not long in finding out that any benefit given during school hours was neutralised by the scenes of home life. It was, therefore, decided to retain the young people there night as well as day and provide them with food and clothing - in short, to form a Ragged School, the first of the kind in Westminster. In this he was greatly assisted by Lord Shaftesbury - then Lord Ashley - who, by public speech and private influence, was the means of exciting interest and raising money. Mr. Walker’s next step was to secure the interest of the thieves in his Mission. The district was one of the headquarters of the “swell mob.” These he sought to influence, and accomplished it in this way. Securing a place of meeting in the upper room of one of the public-houses, he accosted some of them one day when they were playing “pitch-and-toss,” and invited them to form a Sunday afternoon class, to which none but those of their own fraternity would be admitted. They agreed, and next Sunday met for an hour in the afternoon for singing, prayer, reading, and explaining God’s Word.

Mr. Walker had many visits from those interested in reclamation work. In his journal he mentions meeting Charles Dickens and taking him round the district. The result of the visit was a powerful article in Household Words, entitled “The Devil’s Acre.” Another visitor was William Chambers, who came introduced by Lord Kinnaird, a warm friend of Mr. Walker’s. This visit was also followed by a paper which appeared in Chambers’  Journal, under the heading “A Visit to Westminster, but not to the Abbey.” His final scheme was to secure another of the public-houses, known as “The Green Man.” It also was fitted up as a Refuge, where trades of various kinds were carried on. Secular education was given during the week and, by the assistance of various ladies and gentlemen, Sabbath instruction also.

In due time the lads passed into the world to earn an honourable living, many of them going to Australia and the States.

After this arduous labour in Westminster, Mr. Walker removed to the Surrey side of the river and began the Wellington Nursery for the reclamation of the wanderers, where education and out-door occupation were combined. Here he was again visited by Charles Dickens, who penned another graphic article in Household Words, called “Tilling the Devil’s Acre.” Acting under medical advice he gave up this work in 1858, sailed for the States, and settled down in Troy City, where he became an active worker and elder in the United Presbyterian Church, carrying on his first occupation.

From Thomas Chalmers to Thomas Guthrie to Andrew Walker to the London City Mission of today, Charlotte Mason's revolutionary ideas about personhood and education must surely have been influenced by these few kindly gentlemen who looked and really saw, who cared and actually did something to help the less fortunate poor of their day. God bless them! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Poetic musings from my heart to yours (and a Christmas pudding besides)

by Megan Hoyt

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

We don't just celebrate Christmas; we also celebrate Hanukkah. This keeps us hopping. We have eight nights of partying with dreidel games, cookies, listening to NPR's fantastic Hanukkah storytellers and music, and, of course, praying to Almighty G*d, the Creator of the Universe, the unspeakable, all powerful One. Everything blue and white goes up at our house, then comes back down eight days later and is replaced by red and green. It's really tricky! But loads of fun. Chocolate gelt for everyone!!!

These are the special moments -- the times we carve out for only our family. As I sit here snug beneath the Christmas quilt, I can't wait for our children to come home from college and celebrate with us again! 

Tasha Tudor illustrations
We always bake the traditional Hoyt family eggnog cutout cookies, along with a special treat my mother called a "puff." It's like a gigantic cream puff with yummy vanilla glaze on top. It's rich with egg yolks and out of this world. I also started making dishes and desserts out of The Frugal Gourmet's Christmas recipe cookbook. He has food for the magi, the shepherds, etc. We have so much fun with this! Well, I do, anyway. So every year, I make date pudding with whiskey sauce. It's intoxicating in more ways than one. And I don't even like those fruitcake sorts of desserts. But with finely ground walnuts and dates chopped very small, this one is out of this world rich and decadent. We sometimes make plum pudding and figgy pudding, but date pudding is my favorite. I'll post the recipe for it below, and many thanks to the Frugal Gourmet, God rest his merry soul.

The evening before Christmas Eve day, we always go caroling. Just our family. We take along a candle or two in brass candleholders that we only use for this occasion, and we take a plate of cookies to each neighbor. We can't do this any earlier or the neighbors will try to return the gift. If you go close to Christmas, they won't have time and you will have blessed them without getting anything in return which is, of course, the whole point!

Tasha Tudor illustration from Take Joy
We like to read Dickens' A Christmas Carol every year, too. And we always read through a few stories in Tasha Tudor's Take Joy. This must be done beside a roaring fire with Wassail in hand or the spell will be broken. It's magical, I tell you! I remember so fondly carrying this book around the house as a child, poring through the lovely illustrations, singing the hymns (all verses), reading the stories, and, well, taking joy in the Savior's birth!

About the Wassail. It is a Hoyt MUST! From Thanksgiving to Christmas, there is always a pot of steaming Wassail on the stove. The aroma of Wassail and evergreen means Christmas to us. To make our special Wassail, you must use a gallon jug of Apple Cider, a half gallon jug of pure Cranberry Juice -- not cocktail and no added sugar. Then you add a cup of brown sugar, about five cinnamon sticks broken in half, and top with ten slices of orange with cloves tucked into them (This keeps the cloves out of the drink but still adds their flavor). Sometimes we add apple slices, too. It's a simple recipe with fabulous results. And after the kiddies go to bed, you can add a little red wine for a lovely chill-out time with the adults in your life.

Every Christmas Eve, we act out the Christmas story. And Steve always plays the donkey. Now that the kids have gotten a little older, he begs for mercy! Each girl gets a chance to play Mary, so this can take a while. I am always the angel. Funny to some of you, I'll bet. This is a great way to help the kids memorize the story from Luke. At first, I recited it while they play acted. Now, I'm pretty sure we can all recite it word for word. I had to memorize the story in third grade for a Christmas play, and I have never forgotten it. Memory work is good for children. And this is one I would definitely recommend. Any time they can recite from memory a favorite scripture verse or hymn or psalm you can rest assured they will be able to draw from that treasured memory when future struggles inevitably arrive on their doorstep. It's like carrying gold in their satchels, ready to bring it forth in trying times. 

Also on Christmas Eve, we all snuggle up and watch White Christmas. It's a tradition for us because Steve and I watched it on our first date. We were the only ones in our group of friends who did not go home for Christmas when we were in graduate school. So we hung out together, did some Christmas shopping, went to Steve's work Christmas party together. And on Christmas Eve, we fell in love. So every year, without fail and no matter how tired we are from all the festivities leading up to Christmas Eve, we watch White Christmas. Then Steve and I stay up most of the night trying to bake, cook, and get everything else wrapped and set up for Christmas morning. 

Christmas morning. 

We always have breakfast before anything else. Crazy of us to make the kids wait, right? But with full tummies, there is less negative emotion. That doesn't matter so much now that they're older, but when they were young, wooooo! 

We open presents one at a time, taking turns. It's an obsession of my husband's. He's a television producer, and he always wanted to make sure he got everything recorded on video. 

So we must TAKE TURNS! 

Now that they're older, the kids savor their time together, watching each person open a gift and rejoicing as they see what they were given. 

We don't do Santa. We never have. I have taught the kids the story of St. Nicholas from a young age, and they understand the whole concept and don't spoil it for anyone else. But we prefer to focus on the Christ child, the meaning of it all, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. The reason for the season is Jesus and the salvation he bought for us all on the cross.

God bless us, every one!

The long-awaited Christmas pudding recipe

Steamed Date Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

serves 8

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 eggs
3/4 cup chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
(1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves optional)
1 cup milk

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and honey together until smooth. Add the lemon peel and lemon juice and blend again. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix the dates and pecans with 2 tablespoons of the flour and set aside.

Sift together the remaining flour with the other dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk. Stir in the dates and nuts.

Butter a 2-quart mold, including the lid. If the mold has no lid, butter some aluminum foil and tie it on the mold as a lid. Pour the batter into the mold and cover. (You could also use a 2-pound coffee can as a mold, or a juicy juice can.) Place the mold in a large pot and add water to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer for 2 hours, or until the pudding pulls away from the sides of the mold. Let stand 10 minutes before unmolding. This may be done before dessert time. If necessary, simply reheat in a standard oven at about 325 degrees. Serve with Whiskey Sauce.

The Whiskey Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg, well beaten
2 tablespoons whiskey, or more to taste

In a double boiler, cook the butter and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved and very hot. Remove from the heat. Add the beaten egg, using a whisk, so that it will not curdle. When very smooth, allow to cool. Add the whiskey to taste.

When the pudding is assembled, pour extra whiskey over the top and ignite. Enjoy!

This recipe is courtesy of The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas. Go out and buy this book, so you, too, can make soup for the shepherds, rose cakes for the Magi, and all the other wonderful recipes in the book. It's a treasure!

Tasha Tudor illustrations
And now, a couple of free verse poems I wrote several years ago -- my gift to you!

Lily of the Valley

Tangled among sharp nettles, amid barley prickles and darkened, dry grass lay a long-forgotten lily -- soft, brilliant, pure, touched with dew, thirsty with hope, and stained with sorrow.

He shoved his sleeve above his elbow, thrust his bare hand through the mire of thorns, grasped the lily gently between hardened, calloused fingers, and tugged at its satin-soft petals until it was free.

Long forlorn and quite forgotten, the lily was torn and tinged with brown.
Laid in a crystal vase filled with sweetened water, she was drenched with anticipation, filled with nourishment, tinted creamy pale by the sun streaming through his windowpane. 

Soon blossoms cascaded down her branches. Tears welled up in his eyes. Immersed in pure joy, innocent love, and touched with fresh clarity, a song was born of her distant sorrow. It traveled for miles, floating across the sea, over mountains, hills, and valleys until, gathering speed and power from the light above, the song reached the moistened clouds, the shimmering stars, the milky host of Heaven above.

He heard it and was enraptured. Adding angelic voices and thundering echoes of heavenly instruments, all sorrow was swept from the song, leaving only delight. 

The lily burst forth into searing beauty. Pure, white, soft, delicate, fragile, her moment had come. Bursting with fragrance, dampened with dew, she leaped from the soil and landed in His arms, to rest forever in peaceful surrender. 

She nestled snugly upon his breast and felt the comforting pounding of His strong heart, beating only for her as for the thousands who came before. 

And she was forever changed.

I was sitting at the computer watching an episode of my husband's tv show, Think It Thru, when a poem began drafting itself inside my head. I typed it in as it came to me, fast and fluid, like a waterfall tumbling over rocky crags with unseen force. I believe it was God trying to tell me who He really is, who His son, Messiah, is, and to urge me to show others who we, as living sacrifices left on earth to be a witness to future generations of the validity of Yeshua's messiahship, should be toward everyone we meet, Jewish or goyim, sinner and saint. For some reason, as the show was ending, I said the words, "Find me." I think maybe He did. 

Here it is...

Amid the faint starlight and temporal glow of evening, lies a dim flicker, a dying ember, waiting to be fanned to glorious flame.

Nearby sits a still, quiet, thoughtful creature, a spotless lamb of unmentionable quality and astonishing vigor, 

filled with laughter and joy, freedom and love, gentleness and peace.

The lost, the lonely, the longing, the grieving--they arrive as the sunrise deepens, transforming the shade of night into the brilliant color of a fresh, new day;

they come with fear and anguish written across their tear-stained faces, but they do come.

Washing over them with aromatic oil, fragrant and floral, the princely lamb lifts each chin, meets each eye, and says to every wandering heart, "Come."

I rush forward, leaping over rocks and skirting thorn-infested brambles, to meet this gentle lamb with His healing touch and knowing eyes.

I fall at His feet, wrestling with my inadequacies, wallowing in my guilt and shame, writhing in secret pain.

He does not curse and swear, He does not cringe in disgust, He does not stand in judgment.

He stoops to meet my gaze, holds me in His strong, loving arms, and rests my weary head across his sturdy shoulder.

Then He sings over me--sweet songs of forgiveness and peace, deliverance and rest, comfort and life.

I am humbled at His touch; I dirty his woolen white coat with my sin-stained skin.

Yet He doesn't walk away.

He stays.