Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015 Northwest Charlotte Mason Educators Conference

I had the enormous privilege to attend the Northwest Charlotte Mason Educators Conference in Seattle this last weekend.  I believe it was the first one west of the Rockies, but definitely not the last!  The retreat center was amazing - the location was gorgeous, the staff was friendly and helpful, the rooms were comfortable, the food was tasty, the chapel was lovely...  it was everything you could possibly want for an event like this.  I am so grateful to the organizers of the event that they did this.  Is was such a wonderful gift to the Charlotte Mason Community.

I didn't take many pictures of the conference as it was happening, because I feel uncomfortable about taking and posting pictures of people without their direct consent.  But I would like to share some of my nature pictures as well as comment a little (ok, more than a little!) on the talks and events.

Many bedrooms (including mine!), the dining area and one of the conference rooms looked out over Puget Sound
After a delicious dinner and some wonderful conversation, we kicked off the formal part of the conference with Brandy's talk, "What's Love Got to Do With It?  Cultivating Your Child's Affinities", which you can get from her web store if you're interested.  I highly recommend it - it was a fantastic talk, full of both wisdom and practicality.   I thought her discussion about how we cultivate affinities was excellent and extremely helpful.

A nearby nature sanctuary on Saturday morning.  The sun did come out on Saturday, but not until the afternoon.
We also had the option to listen to Catherine Levison discuss contemplative prayer after Brandy's talk.  I ended up staying after the talk and listening and discussing the subject further - as well as hearing many wonderful and fascinating stories.  This late evening really helped solidify some things I've been trying to work through for some time, and I felt so much peace coming out of it.  I hesitate a bit to say this so close to that night, but I think it was a life-changing experience.

The same location, but Sunday afternoon.  We had a blue sky all day on Sunday and it was gorgeous!
I started Saturday morning early, as I'm used to getting up at about 5:45.  It was so lovely to have time to pray, read the Bible, shower, take a walk, pray the rosary...  and then go into the dining room and have a wonderful breakfast all ready for me.  And there was no whining or crying or complaining or anything! (Mornings can be a little tough around here, as you might guess)

Catherine Levison gave the first talk of the morning, discussing "How Do You Want to Be Remembered?" It was a talk full of wisdom and encouragement.  Her list of key things to remember are things I think I need to post prominently, because even though I know them, I have to keep reminding myself how very important they are. 

I have no idea what kind of fungus this is, but it was sizable, and I was fascinated by how it had swallowed up this leaf you can see in the middle of the picture.  I tried tugging on it, but the fungus was holding it so firmly that the leaf didn't budge at all.
Brandy's next talk was about how "The Principles are Practical" which I think she plans to make available on her site as well.  It has a slide deck, so I imagine that's what makes it a little more complicated to put online.  Again, a fabulous talk (and her handout with her organization of the principles is priceless) and it is really making me want to go through Start Here, Brandy's Principles Study.     

The Retreat Center's nature trail
After lunch we had the opportunity to go on a nature walk with Naomi Goegan, then spent some time doing handicrafts.  Again, both were great opportunities.  And I haven't even mentioned all the great conversations I had with the lovely and interesting women who attended this conference with me!  I met so many wonderful people with great stories to share.  And there were so much wisdom to be had from everyone.

Then there was tea, which I actually bailed on because I was feeling a little overstimulated at that point.  I had finished up my nature notebook entry a little late in the handicrafts time period (I was knitting and then crocheting, then decided to draw), and by the time I went into the dining room for tea everyone was in full conversation and it just felt like a bit too much.  My introvertedness kicked in and I felt that dull roaring in my ears which is my clue that I need to spend a little time outside and away from the hubbub of everything.  I added more to my nature notebook, stared at the water for a bit, then was ready for the scheduling discussion at 4.

This discussion was very helpful and encouraging, and showed just how important it is to have some connections with people who are trying to do what you are doing around to bounce ideas off of and to help troubleshoot.  I wish the discussion could have been twice as long!  (And I wish all these incredible women lived, oh, within an hour's drive of me so we could do this every month - or more!!)

Someone on the nature walk identified these as Chanterelle mushrooms.  Aren't they gorgeous?
The next talk was Kathy Wickward's talk about Charlotte Mason's methods and special needs children.  I wish everyone could have heard this talk, because as Kathy pointed out, "special needs are regular issues on steroids".  Also, I think it was so helpful to hear a bit about what it is like to educate a child with special needs and so encouraging to hear how CM's methods and ideas are appropriate for all children.  I wonder if they are perhaps even more important for children with special needs because they are so much more likely to be given limited exposure to truth, beauty and goodness.  Her discussion about accommodating and how to build skills while also continuing that exposure to great ideas was particularly helpful.

And then it was time for dinner, with another talk and a book discussion after that in the evening.  (Yes, Saturday was a long and full day, but an excellent one!)  Naomi Goegan's Nature Study Through the Ages talk was very helpful and encouraging, and I especially like how she emphasized that we have to be willing to open our own eyes for nature study to work.  We also have to be patient - nature study is not a short term endeavor.  

I had hoped to go the The Nature Study Idea book discussion, but since I only managed to finish about a third of the book, I decided to attend the Living Page discussion instead.  I think most of the attendees attended this discussion, as it was a very full room!  But we had a good discussion, and I was encouraged especially to consider creating a child's personal history chart after hearing one woman describe how she did it with her children.  Attending this talk really made me realize how much more I could appreciate a book if I had the opportunity to discuss it with other people.

And now we're (finally!) at Sunday.  I didn't realize this write-up would get quite so long, but I think it is good for me to get a chance to record some of my impressions.  I hope perhaps it will be encouraging for some of you out there who didn't get to go, but have considered attending a conference like this.  If you have the opportunity, or even sort of have the opportunity - do it!

On Sunday morning I again took a walk, then went to Mass at the chapel at the retreat center.  The Mass was lovely, and I had the opportunity to serve as an Eucharistic Minister for the first time.  It was incredibly moving, and I felt so privileged to do so.  It is something I've been scared to do in the past, but now I hope to have the opportunity to do it again.

And after breakfast, we had a west coast organizational meeting.  After talking briefly with the one other woman from Northern California (hi, Helen!) we decided to join the Southern California table.  We had some ideas about how to build the CM community in California, which is exciting, and I enjoyed hearing what other women have done to build community in their areas.  And then we discussed the next West Coast Charlotte Mason Conference - and guess what, it will be in Northern California next year, and I'm going to be taking a substantial role in making this happen!  I'm very excited, and I feel complete peace about it.  (now at least!)  There are several other wonderful women who are also going to be working on the next conference, and I'm very glad to have to opportunity to work with them and get to know them better.   

And then it was time for our last talk of the conference, Brandy's talk on the famous (well, in CM circles at least) fresco with St. Thomas Aquinas in the center and all the virtues and areas of study.  Her talk was very informative, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to stare at the painting more closely and understand who all the figures in it are.  I'm looking forward to Brandy putting this one online, because I quickly realized that I could either stare and consider or I could take notes...  and I decided to stare and consider.  But I'd like to have the notes too, because there is a lot of information embedded in that fresco!

And then after lunch it was time for the conference to end and for everyone to head out.  I did have a chance to chat a bit more with some of the women I met, and then I met up with my husband's Aunt and Uncle to visit and take a walk.  We walked back to the nature sanctuary and had a great visit in the lovely September sunshine.  Then it was to the rental car return, to the airport, to the plane, to the Sacramento airport, to the economy parking (where I thought I had lost my parking ticket and ended up finding it on the ground outside my car!), then to my mom's house to return her car and pick up my mother-in-law's car, then to my in-law's to return her car, then I walked home (owning one car can sometimes be challenging, logistically speaking!).  My daughter had waited up for me, and we eagerly swapped stories while I ate a late dinner and wound down a bit from the drive and walk.  

Mount Rainier - I have never flown so close to it before!
And now I'm really looking forward to the West Coast Charlotte Mason Conference next Fall!!


  1. How WONDERFUL! Oh to be a fly on the wall! :)

    1. It really was wonderful, perhaps someday you can go to something like this too! :-)

  2. These conferences can be an opportunity to "fill up you fuel tank". I'm so glad you got to go!

    1. Thanks! It was so refreshing to be with a group of women who are trying to do what I'm doing - so often homeschooling conferences and discussions just leave me feeling frustrated and sad, but this was quite the opposite.

  3. It was a pleasure to meet you at the conference!

    1. It was a pleasure to meet you too! I hope we will get to see each other again at the next one.

  4. So great to meet you Amber! I'm looking forward to next year!

    1. It was great to meet you too, Christine! I'm really looking forward to next year as well.

  5. Loved reading your thoughts and seeing your photos. What a beautiful and blessed weekend!