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Archive for the ‘Classical Works’ Category

Dear Friends,

In Part IV of our series BFB Fundamentals, we are exploring the question of whether or not Beautiful Feet Books is classical in nature. As we noted in the previous post, until the definition of classical is clarified, the question can become one of semantics and may lead to simplistic conclusions.  Because classical is currently the homeschool paradigm de jour, examining some of its well-accepted tenets should prove helpful as you determine which path is right for you and the students you serve.

What does contemporary classical homeschooling mean?

Classical education as a home schooling model first became popular as the 20th century gave way to the 21st and has remained so since. For those of us who began home schooling in the 1980s, classical education was the new kid on the block.  As with any fad, it swept many in its wake and provided some folks with solutions to the failing standards they saw in public education as well as in the more relaxed homeschooling model.  Its emphasis on a rigorous academic approach seemed to guarantee the creation of scholars who would take positions of leadership in law, medicine, government and so forth.  This would be achieved through implementing the trivium as we noted in our previous post.

Stage One: The Grammar Stage

Early Greek educators did not view education as the process of three distinct stages, but as soon as students could read and write they were reading the classic Greek texts.

Early Greek educators did not view education as the process of three distinct stages; as soon as students could read and write they were reading the classic Greek texts.

Modern classical proponents ascribe to the notion that learning takes place in three distinct 4-year phases of a student’s life. While these phases may seem to correlate to the physical and intellectual development of the child, the bland acceptance of them can prove problematic. In the grammar stage of the classical approach (also known as the poll-parrot stage), emphasis is placed on pouring into the student facts (indeed “masses of information”-as one promoter put it) as children are supposedly sponges ready and willing to soak up facts of every kind, and can easily memorize these facts. Theoretically, later on, in the logic stage, these facts will be drawn upon as the child begins to reason. While this approach fits some students well, especially those gifted in memorization, other students, particularly those not gifted with the ability to retain masses of disparate facts, flounder. The focus on pouring information into a young child is based on the notion that in the grammar stage children will unquestioningly accept what is offered.

But is this 4-year cycle based upon a truly classical approach to education?  Did the ancients view education through this 12-year paradigm to which modern classical proponents ascribe?  As Diane Lockman points out in her helpful article “Classical Education Made Easier“, the ancient Greeks did not separate the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. Students became proficient in reading, reasoning and speaking as they studied the classic texts of Greek literature with an emphasis on copy work and reading and reciting aloud.

An authentic classical Christian education, as developed during the ancient Greco-Roman world and later refined by the Western Europeans and American colonists, involved mastering three fundamental skills so that the student could then explore the deeper meaning of abstract ideas for the purpose of influencing society.  Three chronological stages were never part of the original interpretation.

The Charlotte Mason approach asserts that all children, regardless of age, are capable of reason, delight, appreciation of beauty, and  that “Education should aim at giving knowledge touched with emotion” (For the Children’s Sake). Pouring information into a child for the mere goal of “filling the brain with facts” defies the essential nature of classical education–the desire to teach children to think. True education cannot ignore the spirit of the child, his basic need to feel connected in some way to the studies at tumblr_moe00wJ7U91rrs6fio1_500hand.  At Beautiful Feet we believe this is done through literature’s emotional connection–the ability to identify with others through the power of stories of literary beauty and historical import.  A quick narrative read of historical facts (standard fare in most classical approaches) that offers no literary beauty and no connection to the great questions of the human condition, fails to meet the standards of a truly classical education.

Begin at the beginning: the four-year cycle of history study?

Additionally, the current classical notion that history studies must begin at the beginning (with ancient history in first grade) is another layer of artificial construction upon an already artificial 12-year model.  Classical education’s promotion of a four-year cycle of history instruction seems reasonable and the repetition (“what we don’t get the first time around, we’ll be sure to pick up next time!”) provides reassurance.  While the four-year cycle approach does provide that revisiting, it doesn’t consider the question of age and developmental appropriateness for subject matter. This concern is dismissed by promoting the notion that while studying ancient history with your first grader, one can just focus on mummification, gladiators, and chariot races; in effect this belies the basic notion that ancient history can be taught to a first grader.  The resultant “classical” studies are cultural in nature, not historical. Indeed, Oxford Reference defines history as “the study of past events, particularly in human affairs”–the study of history necessitates the focus on events.

History, taught classically  . . .

So how does one approach historical studies with a truly classical view to nurturing in young students reading, reasoning, and speaking skills? In essence, this can be accomplished in much the same way as the ancient Greeks did it–by exposing children to the best age-appropriate literature which is relevant to their times and culture.  For a young American child this means the best children’s books on the early saga of America’s great story, much as the Greeks read Homer and studied Plato–the stories of their ancestors, the history of their nation.  A child gifted with the knowledge and appreciation of his own historical heritage better understands his or her place in the world and from that foundation can embrace the beauty and the heritage of other nations and cultures.

So, how does this answer our question, “Is Beautiful Feet Books classical?”  If one looks at some contemporary notions of classical, then the answer would be, “No.”  On the other hand, if one perceives classical as incorporating Socratic reasoning and discussion, engaging with timeless literature (age appropriate), eschewing the use of textbooks and bland narrative works, and involving students in the Great Conversation about the important issues of the human heart, then yes, Beautiful Feet Books is classical.

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This is Part III in our BFB Fundamentals Series. 
Click on the links to read Part I and Part II

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past.  Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.  A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” –C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

What is Classical?

The term “classical” is one that has been bandied about the homeschooling movement for years and we are often asked if our curriculum is “classical”. Answering this seemingly simple question has proven difficult as we find that there are as many definitions of the term “classical education” as there are curricula. People can purchase curriculum to teach “classical handwriting” and “classical science.” This poses a challenge as it seems that everyone has their own conception of what it means to adopt a “classical” education approach.

The Modern Classical Movement

Classical education, in its modern use of the term, refers simply to an educational approach built around the trivium, or three-part process that aims to train the mind. The three parts refer to three stages: the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage. Each of the three stages corresponds to four years, so during grades 1-4 the student is in the grammar stage and studying the basics, laying a foundation for the next stage. This approach to the four year cycle is relatively new, a product of educational bureaucracy at the turn of the 20th century when it was determined that public schools would be required to provide twelve years of education. While the idea of “classical” education has existed from the early Medieval period, its proponents argue that it is rooted in ancient philosophy, employing the methods used by Socrates and Plato. The modern classical movement also takes much from the “Great Books” movement, advocating that students and parents take part in the “Great Conversation” that has existed between the premier thinkers of all time. This is accomplished through exposure to the best literary works of the West.

Teaching History “Classically”

As we at BFB are primarily concerned with teaching history, let’s take a look at how the trivium impacts the teaching of history. First, a classical approach advocates that all of world history be taught in four years. So from grades 1-4, a student is presented with a chronological world history. This four year pattern is repeated three times before the student graduates from high school. Obviously, this means that the history of the ancient world including Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, and more is presented in 1st grade. The Medieval period is generally taught in grade 2, the age of exploration and discovery in grade 3, and modern/contemporary history in grade 4. The cycle then begins at the beginning with the ancient world being taught again in grade 5, and so on and so forth. During the grammar stage memorization is emphasized. This is where classical education advocates argue that a student is most readily able to absorb facts. During these years students are often taught chants in which they memorize historically relevant trivia such as the names of the US presidents or the dates of key events. It is not until the later years that students are exposed to the great literary works of Western culture.

Charlotte Mason and Classical Education

Now that the trivium and “classical” education has been very basically defined, let’s take a look at another educational approach that has been hugely influential in our own educational journey. Charlotte Mason, a British educator who lived during the late 1800s believed education was an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. Boiling Mason’s pedagogy to its very basic elements reveals an educational approach designed to create a pleasant environment that would encourage the development of life-long learners, and cultivate curiosity and discovery. This required wide exposure to literature, conversation, exploration, and the arts.
Charlotte Mason fervently advocated the use of “living books” to teach history, eschewing the dry textbooks that were being promoted at the time. These living books relayed information in a story form, allowing children to begin seeing history in terms of a human story and not simply a collection of facts.
Hopefully we have helped clear up some of the confusion surrounding the terms “classical” and “Charlotte Mason”. In our next entry we will answer the question we are most often asked, “Is BFB classical?”

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don’t forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.

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History is the essence of innumerable biographies. –Thomas Carlyle

Why Teach History through Literature? by Rea Berg

In our first installment of this series, we looked at the importance of the study of history. When we consider the question of how history ought to be taught and why we would consider teaching  history through literature, there are some interesting points to bear in mind: 1.  How has history been taught through the ages?  2. Why use literature to teach history?  3. Why is the use of literature the most effective way to learn history?

How has history been taught through the ages?

Waves of immigrants posed challenges to 19th century educators

Waves of immigrants posed challenges to 19th century educators

In the nineteenth century, with the dawn of compulsory education in America, schools were forced to begin to standardize what should be taught to all these children sitting eight hours a day at their obligatory desks. Because the dawn of compulsory education coincided with industrialization and with a massive influx of immigrants, educators felt motivated, from a sometimes elitist mindset, to educate the masses for the purposes of creating a literate work force.  Presented with the challenge of getting all these children from varying backgrounds on the same educational “page”, it is easy to see how the textbook naturally evolved.  Certain events, personages, significant battles and historical milestones were deemed essential knowledge for the creation of good citizens and a stable workforce.  These “facts” were compiled into disseminated formats stripped of the narrative elements of story, resulting in dry works of little human interest and no literary value.

Standardizing the teaching of history spelled the death knell for creating any love of history in that rising generation of new Americans. It alparisso flew in the face of how history was taught for centuries.  From ancient times forward students studied history by reading history.  In other words, if a student say, in the Middle Ages, was studying history he read the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Eusebius, Plutarch and Josephus. Of course, if you were a young French boy studying in a monastic school in Paris, reading these works meant learning Greek, Latin, and in some cases Hebrew, for ancient histories were not translated into vernacular languages until the late 1200s.  In some instances, it would be centuries before these ancient classic texts appeared in English.  An English schoolboy in London, would not have had Plutarch’s Parallel Lives in English until the late 1500s.   This is one reason why a classical education was always inextricably linked with the study of Latin and Greek.

Why use literature to teach history?

Our ancient young predecessors, sitting by candlelight or lamplight, reading history, actually read history through literature.  There simply was no other way to study history–which brings us to our second point. History has effectively been taught through literature since ancient times.  Only just the last century or so has this vibrant subject been robbed of its human connection by the ubiquitous textbook.  As Neil Postman urges in his book, The End of Education, those who desire to improve teaching ought to get rid of all textbooks which, in his opinion are “the enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning” (116).  Exchanging literature–biographies, classical works, even historical fiction, for the history textbook not only restores this discipline to its historic roots, but also reinvigorates it with its inherent passion, human interest, and wonder.  A middle-grade child reading Johnny Tremain for her studies of the American Revolution will learn far more about the essence of that struggle than even the most colorful textbook could ever impart.

Why is the use of literature the most effective way to teach history?

Literature, as defined by the Oxford reference is “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.”  Now, I’m not sure about you, but I have yet to hear of a single history textbook to win a Pulitzer or a Nobel prize for Literature.  Written works achieve the status of literary merit by their ability to speak to the human condition and the experiences, trials, and aspirations of the human heart. In this way, the best works draw the reader into the drama of the story and through the emotions open the mind.  David McCullough, Pulitzer prize-winner for his work John Adams, affirms that the most effective way to teach history is to “tell stories.”9780684813639_p0_v2_s260x420

That’s what history is: a story.  And what’s a story? E. M. Forster gave a wonderful definition to it: If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events.  If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story.  That’s human. That calls for empathy on the part of the teller of the story and . . . the listener to the story. (“Knowing History”)

The notion of emotion and empathy as a critical component of history’s ability to speak to the human heart, was promoted by Charlotte Mason, the 19th century educational reformer. She advocated the use of “living books”–literature, history, biography—”to open limitless avenues of discovery in a child’s mind”.  She taught that all, “Education should aim at giving knowledge touched with emotion” (For the Children’s Sake). It is the connection between the human heart, mind, and will, that makes the study of history so enjoyable and memorable to those fortunate to study it through the best books. As a wonderful by-product, students brought up on an educational curriculum rich in the best literature often become compassionate, engaged, and thoughtful adults–the best possible educational outcome.

Works Cited:

“Knowing History and Who We Are.”  David McCullough.  Imprimis.  Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College. April 2005.

Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School, Wheaton, IL: Crossway

           Books, 1984.

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Dear Readers,

MadelineWelcome to another installment of Around the World with Newbery and Caldecott Part IV!  This post will explore just a few of the wonderful award-winning children’s books of France!  This is another preview to my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée.  It is just a little over a week away, so if you’re interested, please visit here.

As a Francophile since my early 20s, when I spent nearly a year in Paris, I have returned many times to this fascinating country that holds so much of the world’s greatest art, architecture, cuisine, and natural beauty!  I love France for all of these things, but also for the pivotal part they played in helped the struggling American colonies to win their fight for independence from Great Britain.

Probably the most well-known and beloved children’s book about Paris is Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.  Winner of the Caldecott Honor in 1940, Madeline’s Rescue won the Caldecott Medal in 1954.  My friend and former professor, Anita Silvey has done a marvelous job of telling the background of these wonderful creations by Bemelmans here.

Another author of French tales beloved by American children is Claire Huchet Bishop, a French-born American who is best known for two9780590457071 Newbery Honor titles–All Alone, which tells the story of a French boy who herds cattle in the mountains and befriends a fellow herder in need.  His compassion leads to the healing of old rivalries in the village. booksPancakes-Paris, which is unfortunately out-of-print, tells the tale of a boy given a box of pancake mix by American GIs after WWII.  Set during the same period is Twenty and Ten, the story of French school children hiding Jewish children from the Nazis.

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson is the heartwarming story of Armand, a Parisian tramp who wants nothing to do with children.  But when three fatherless children “adopt” him, all kinds of adventures happen.  Readers will be charmed by the warmth and pathos of this story and by the tender illustrations of Garth Williams who you you will recognize as the beloved illustrator of the Little House on the Prairie series.  Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1959.

family-under-the-bridge Winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1993, Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully  tells the tale of a celebrated tightrope walker and his friendship with young Mirette.  While he teaches the devoted Mirette the art of tightrope walking, he learns some wonderful lessons too. IMG_3215 While there are many, many more wonderful titles that I haven’t touched on yet, I will conclude with a title of extraordinary beauty published during the Golden Age of children’s book illustration–the late nineteenth century.  Joan of Arc (1899) by Maurice Boutet de Monvel depicts in grand sweeping panoramas, the life of the devout French maid who led the beleaguered forces of her country to victory over England.  The artist’s devotion to the French heroine comes through his watercolor paintings with power and exuberance.  I will let the following pictures speak for themselves.

There will be lots more like this at my upcoming Rea’s Back-to-School Literature Soirée!  Hope you can join us!

boutet_monvel_panorama_01Jeanne_D_Arc_Boutet_de_Monvel_123453537667_8cfcd2fc1e_z

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Dear Readers,9780060215859-l
As many of you know, I’m hosting a Back-to-School Literature Soirée in two weeks.  In preparation for this, I’ve been reading some current medal winners as well as pulling lots of old Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners from my shelf and rereading them.  This is such a delight!  While I am learning new things, I am also taking a trip down memory lane, as rereading these treasures brings back reflections of how these books affected me when I first read them.  I have been struck by how reading these award-winning books can be a veritable trip “around the world”, as so many of them have to do with cultures, nations, and historic periods completely outside of our own familiar and comfortable world.

For the upcoming soirée I will present an “Around the World” with Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners.  We will take a trip through various nations, cultures, and historic periods through treasured classics.  Here’s an example of what our “trip” will look like:  We will travel to Holland through the wonderful works of Meindert DeJong, in The Wheel on the School and Journey From Peppermint Street. In the first book, we get90a a charming look at life in a fishing village in Holland when the school children place an old wagon wheel on their school so a mother stork will build her nest.  This tender and touching story won the Newbery Medal in 1954 and continues to have a place in the hearts of children today. In Journey from Peppermint Street, young Siebren goes on a long journey with his grandfather and in the process learns valuable lessons about the joys and mystery of life. Yonie Wondernose by Marguerite De Angeli won the Caldecott Honor in 1945 and concerns a Pennsylvania Dutch boy named Yonie who lets his curiosity get him into all kinds of scrapes.

Continuing our European tour a bit north to Denmark, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is an inspiring story set in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.  Lois Lowry, (who I was able to meet just recently in Boston!) has created her story based on the Danish people’s rescue of the Jews through the inspiring example and leadership of their King Christian X, and the profound courage of the Danish Resistance.  Ten year-old Annemarie Johansen risks her life to save her best friend Ellen Rosen and learns the meaning of courage and self-sacrifice.  If the plight of storks has peaked your interest, you can continue reading about these marvelous creatures through a lighthearted and whimsical tale, also set in Denmark (and London) about a family that saves an abducted stork! Mrs. Easter and the Storks by V.H.

Mrs. Easter and the Storks

Mrs. Easter and the Storks

Drummond will delight your youngest readers with its fun and adventure!

Another award-winning work on Denmark is Chase Me, Catch Nobody by Erik Christian Haugaard which won the Jane Adams Book Honor in 1981.  It involves a 14 year-old Danish boy on a school trip to Germany in 1937 who becomes involved in the activities of the anti-Nazi underground.  You may recognize this award-winning author from his more well-known work set in 16th century Japan, The Samurai’s Tale.

So, this is just a little preview of the upcoming journey we will take through treasures old and new during my upcoming Back-to-School Literature Soirée. Our journey will also take us to Japan, China, England, Korea, and even into the future!  There are still spots available, so if you are interested, visit my last post for info, or to register visit here.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe's home from 1852-1863

Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s home in Andover  from 1852-1863

I have the fortune to have a dear friend who lives just a couple doors down from 80 Bartlet Street in Andover, Massachusetts.  While visiting there recently, I was delighted to learn that this address was the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The author lived there just after the publication of her seminal novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Indeed, she applied her first royalty check from the novel toward the renovation of the home for her large family.  Her husband, Calvin Stowe, taught Sacred Literature at Andover Theological Seminary, and it was this position that precipitated the move of the family there.

Born into a notable family devoted to faith and education, one of the ironies of Harriet’s childhood, is that when she was born, her father was disappointed that she was a girl!  A preacher himself, her father wanted sons who could follow in his footsteps, which a number did. While a few of the Beecher sons made names for themselves during their lifetimes, it was Harriet who had the most dramatic and lasting impact upon the fate of the natthe_annotated_uncle_toms_cabin.large_-1ion and upon the history of the world. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a runaway best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year; and in Great Britain, 1.5 million copies in one year. It was subsequently translated into 60 languages and impacted other nations still under the bondage of serfdom and slavery.

Gazing at the place Harriet called home for eleven years, I enjoyed imagining the happy chaos that must have often filled the halls and chambers of this lovely stone dwelling. It is easy to romanticize the life of someone from the past, but I know better than to do so with her.  Harriet has always been an inspiration for me, because, not only was she the mother of seven children, but she often parented alone, as her husband was sickly and given to melancholy and depression.  Because of her husband’s frequent illnesses, financial matters were always a concern, which was another of Harriet’s motivations for writing, as she was often forced to supplement the family income.  But despite the tremendous pressure upon her as wife and mother, she found time to devote to her passionate desire for abolition, and became a driving force through the dramatic words that flowed from her pen.  So convincing was her characterization in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that Americans all over the country were able to identify vicariously with the suffering slaves and their brave liberators.  This identification became a catalyst for change, and through the power of Harriet’s pen the nation grew ripe for emancipation.

When the AmeriHarriet-Beecher-Stowe-and-the-Beecher-Preachers-9780399226663can Civil War broke out in 1861 Stowe wrote “It was God’s will that this nation—the North as well as the South—should deeply and terribly suffer for the sin of consenting to and encouraging the great oppressions of the South”—(The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe).  It was to her a direct breach of the second great commandment as she noted, ” . . . the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourself”.

If you have never enjoyed the moving experience of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, consider picking it up as a summer read-aloud.  Though the language can seem a bit archaic at first, a little diligence will be rewarded handsomely, as the dramatic plot will quickly pull readers in. Most importantly, the lessons of compassion, empathy, and justice will linger long in listener’s hearts and minds.

A wonderful companion to the study of Stowe’s novel is Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Beecher Preachers by Jean Fritz. The stories of the rambunctious household that Harriet grew up in, and the tales of her own seven children, may have a familiar ring to contemporary families who have made home education a choice and a lifestyle.  In the often humdrum duties of daily life, it is easy to forget that sometimes, future greatness can be hidden in an unlikely package.  Though her father and her culture could not have imagined it, Harriet’s preaching turned her world upside down and helped bring justice to untold millions.

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Hello Fellow Book Lovers,

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.–Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Well, summer’s lease is nearly over, and despite our wish that it could linger just a bit longer, school days will shortly be upon us!  So, to give us all a boost (myself included), I am hosting a “Back to School” Literature Soirée on Saturday, September 8.  I will cover more literary analysis, but this time we will look at how to analyze historical literature within the context of the heroic quest.  This will be a fun adventure as we consider how the heroes and heroines of the eras of exploration, discovery, and colonization provide examples of heroic archetypes fulfilling their own unique destinies.

I will present an overview of the best historical works for children covering the period of the early 1600s up through the Civil War.  The concentration will be early American History, but some world history will naturally be a part of that.  So roughly speaking, here is how the day should go:

9:30-10 am: Arrival and get acquainted with a cup of coffee or tea

10 am-10:30: a brief session will look at current statistics of American student’s knowledge of history and literature as well as the why’s and wherefore’s of the “notebook approach”

10:30-11:30 am: the best children’s literature of Early American Exploration, Discovery, and Colonization

11:30 am-noon: Analyzing historical literature using the elements of the heroic quest (definition and overview), anthropomorphism, the orphaned child literary trope, and others!  (not to worry, I will clearly define all of these before setting you out on your own).

Noon-1:45: Working lunch applying literary analysis to various works of historical literature. This time we will work in pairs to save time

1:45-2 pm: Coffee Break

2:00-3:00 pm: the best Children’s Literature of the American Revolution–the Civil War

3:00-3:30 pm:  Wrap up and feedback on take away

So to recap: Saturday, September 8, 2012

At my home: 1306 Mill Street, San Luis Obispo

Time: 9:30 am–3:30 pm

Cost: $30 (which will include lunch– please email me if you need gluten free or vegetarian)  You can register here.

Finally, this soiree is already half booked with ladies returning from our summer session.  So please register soon, to insure you have a place!

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