Monday, January 31, 2011

Geographica: Southeast Asia

I just can't think of anything clever to add, so without introduction, here's the quiz:

Southeast Asia

1.  The Irrawaddy River flows through what country, where over half of the population is the Burman people; and about half of the land is covered by dense tropical forests?

2.  Songkran is this country's New Year celebration.  It is held on April 13, is celebrated all over the country, and the people greet each other with water; this is what country whose capital is Bangkok?

3.  What country has the large freshwater lake, Tonle Sap; and was a French protectorate from 1863-1953? This country's capital is Phnom Penh.

4.  What country borders the Gulf of Tonkin in the northeast, the South China Sea to the east and southeast, and the gulf of Thailand to the southwest?

5.  In August 1883, a volcanic eruption on the Island of Krakatau destroyed most of the island and started a tsunami that claimed over 35,000 lives; this island is in what country?


1.  Myanmar
2.  Thailand
3.  Cambodia
4.  Vietnam
5.  Indonesia

Saturday, January 29, 2011

On Saturday

     Bryan left before we woke up this morning.  We had a quiet day, wide open, waiting for all the living there was to be done.  We started with a new recipe for oatmeal pancakes, which was unremarkable.  And coffee, naturally.  Then Ally and I hauled out the sewing machine and fabric boxes.  I pushed the dining table into the sun.  We made an apron set (one for a girl and one for a doll) to send a little lady about to become a big sister, and that's something to celebrate.  Kara stayed busy ironing fabric from our stash and refolding it, telling us all the while how much she loves to iron.  "Don't you mommy?"  Well...truthfully?  No.
     Ally's little feather weight sews beautifully.  I think it's like a toy.  An expensive toy.  The back stitch mechanism is simply wonderful.  Unfortunately, it doesn't zig-zag so out came my Grandma's Singer.  Ally, never wasting a moment, started a new Bible cover, while I finished the aprons.  Even Kara made a little project, and wonders if someone might want to buy him.  See  the ubiquitous smiling face?  I love it.

      Bryan came home in time for a late dinner.  We had run around like crazy, picking up, vacuuming, putting the furniture back in place and dinner in the oven.  Ally greets him with a smile, "Welcome to your humble abode where you are the undisputed Master of the House."  (A little Dickens allusion, smile!)

Friday, January 28, 2011

One of Those Days

     This week has been one of those weeks.  There's nothing wrong, yet I've been dragging through my days.  I've been wishing I could spend the week on the couch - with a book.  I've made myself carry on with school and schedules regardless of my feelings.  Sometimes that's what you do, just carry on.
     Sometimes you take a day off.  We did math this morning, and I set the kids free for the rest of the day.  One child cried upon hearing the good news; they weren't tears of joy.  She had been working ahead, trying to earn a little freedom on a Friday, and I had undone all her hard work.  I had a long list of tasks I wanted to accomplish.  Instead I spent most of my time on the couch - with a book. 
     I suppose there were a few other things I did.  There was a dentist's appointment.  There was someone who wanted help with an online German lesson, motivated by a keen desire to say something other than one's age.  There were fierce games of Teddy Mix and Match.  I had time to cook with a budding chef.  I had time to watch the sap run down the maple tree and see the syrup collection process. (The collecting cup was knocked over by someone with a hammer long before we got to the boiling stage in the process.  But, if you're wondering, we did once boil the sap from our maple and produced something akin to syrup.)  I had time to go to the park, time to play tag and work on memory verses in the sunshine. 
      That's the kind of day it was here.  I didn't really get a lot accomplished.  Sometimes I work so hard to number my days, I'm wrapped up tight as a corkscrew.  I wonder if maybe...maybe...maybe...a heart of wisdom would know a little more about making space for Joy.
Sap collection in progress

Sweet - even for the bees

Tools of the trade, found in the shed, left in the dirt.

Time to swing.  Isn't there always time to swing?

Crossbow: good for battles, all sorts (as long as the tape holds).

Stilts, in progress.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Something Lovely: A Thoughtful Friend

     Our pastor's wife brought these tulips when they came for dinner.  We could see just one bud, almost ready to burst, the other blossoms following as the days past.  The gift is such a thoughtful gesture, a little something extra and unexpected, that brings a longer lasting joy.  When I come down in the morning I'm astonished by that glorious pink, radiant in the morning sun.  I remember not only the gift, but the giver.  I think of her gentleness, godliness, and sincere concern for others.  I'm grateful not only for the tulips but for the friend.
     Years ago another godly woman brought me a small token of affection, a single rose bud and stem of variegated sage, plucked from her garden.  She explained she would buy bud vases at the thrift store for 99 cents and keep them on hand to give away.  She and her husband kept a gigantic, beautiful, marvelously well tended garden.  And, you see, as they planted, pruned, weeded and watered, they were always thinking not only of themselves, but of others.  I still remember her love and the simplicity of the gift.

Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:14 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

He Grew A Bit Today

    "I don't learn how to read, I'm too busy playing."  Arden tells us as if he fully realizes that the task of reading is a matter of choice.  He chooses not to read.  As a matter of discipline I've made him learn some phonemes.  A few letter sounds, vocalized and traced out on sandpaper letters.  We have reviewed and tried a little blending using the letters from our All About Spelling board.  We drew accompanying pictures with dry erase markers of axes, cats and hats.  But his heart just wasn't in it.  I tried backing off a little.  Childhood is about free time, play and toys and Arden is enjoying himself.  There is plenty of time to learn.  Then today I thought, maybe he'd just like to read a book.  I dug the Bob Books out of the box.  Arden read his first book (with plenty of help from mom).  Then he read his second.  He's proud.  He's keeping them out on the chest in the living room, to read when the mood strikes him, just like the rest of us.  A guy can only learn sounds for so long before it seems pointless.  But to grow up and read a real book, well, he might be interested.

Arden brought more and more teddies to join the picture party. 

Arden's stack joins all the others on the chest.

*Bob Books:  Mine are from a thrift store and are now being used for the third time.  My kids have loved them when there's no other real book they're able to read.  Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers
*The Teddies:  This week we're playing one game after another of Ravensburger Teddy Mix & Match - Children's Game

Monday, January 24, 2011

Geographica: Asia

     Today I asked Ally to prepare the quiz early so I wouldn't be sitting here typing at night.  She wrote all her questions this afternoon.  Here I am at night, typing.  Days are so busy, a wonderful whirl.  My mental list (I'm sorry, I just hardly ever make physical lists, but like daily goals) remains far from completed.  I think, I hope, it was a good day anyway.  The important things are done, though the floor remains unmopped.

The Quiz: Asia

1.  The name of the Gobi Desert comes from Mongolian meaning "waterless place".  The Gobi desert is in Mongolia and what other country to the south?

2.  With the Thar Desert in the west and the Himalayas to the north; and the Deccan Plateau in the central region, this is what country?

3.  The Sir Edmund Hillary's Himalayan Trust, a charity organization, is located in which landlocked country?

4.  What peninsula is between the Yellow Sea to the southwest and the Sea of Japan to the northeast?

5.  Shinto and Buddhism are the major religions in this country where the currency is the Yen?

Bonus Question
The seventh largest island in the world is Honshu; Honshu is an island of what country?


1.  China
2.  India
3.  Nepal
4.  Korean Peninsula
5.  Japan
Bonus Question:  Japan

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Travelers' Fare

     If home is our family's haven, yet it's the only haven we know, this home is not enough.  I spend my days, even this entire season of my life, making our home a refuge for my husband, children and guests.  I am often challenged, or feel deprived, and am not content.  I am not meant to be content only with home and family.  I was not created to be satisfied only with this world.  The comfort of Christ and hope of heaven drive away discouragement or despair and I will never be satisfied by anything less than the matchless grace of God.
"Thus it should be with us in this world, for the truth is, we are all in this world but as seafaring men, tossed up and down on the waves of the sea of this world and our haven is heaven;  here we are traveling and our home is a distant home in another world....Though we meet with travelers' fare sometimes, yet it should not be grievous to us.  The Scripture tells us plainly that we must behave ourselves as pilgrims and strangers: 'Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul' (I Pet. 2:11).  Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers; so do not satisfy yourselves are as it were, only lodging here, for a night."
 Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs
 "Therefore comfort one another with these words." I Thessalonians 4:18

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Cherished Winnie-ther-Pooh

     Arden and I have been reading Winnie-the-Pooh (Pooh Library original 4-volume set (Pooh Original Edition), as an aside I have linked to this set because it is most like mine, with black and white illustrations by Ernest H. Shepherd.  Shepherd visited Milne's home, and sketched the original Pooh and friends; I do hope you realize they were the stuffed animals from the nursery.  They were brought to life, given character by the real Christopher Robin, A.A. Milne's son, and Milne only fleshed out what had already been begun.  Shepherd sketched out the animals as well as the real home, stream and woods in the world of Pooh.  Shepherd also went back and made color illustrations for a later edition, and I suppose that's okay as well, but I am partial to the black and white.  Disney is not Shepherd, let's make that quite clear.)  My Pooh books are inscribed,  "From Uncle P. and Aunt P., Sept. 14, 1975."  A birthday gift.
     Today Arden and I read Chapters 5 and 6 in which "Piglet Meets a Heffalump" and "Eeyore Has a Birthday."  I adore Pooh, every child of mine hears them read out loud, one on one, accompanied by snuggling and smiles.  As I read to Arden, I am often interrupted.  We must turn to the end papers and carefully study the map and pinpoint each particular over and over.  Exactly which tree was Christopher Robin sitting in when Pooh was tracking the Woozle?  What path did Pooh and Piglet take home from Christopher Robin's and where did they cross the stream?  The Heffalump trap is right near Pooh's House and the Six Pine Trees.  Why haven't we read about the Sandy Pit where Roo plays?  I don't remember this careful attention to detail in my other children.
     Eeyore's birthday was full of little pleasures for Arden and I.  I laughed out loud, and there was loud mimicking laughter, surely if mom is laughing it must be funny.  I laughed over gloomy Eeyore, returning the happy returns and defending himself, "You don't always want to be miserable on my birthday, do you?"  I laughed over Pooh's Wobbly spelling, it's good but the "letters get in the wrong places."  (Have a speller like that at your house?)  I laughed when Owl investigated Pooh's reading ability and discovered when Christopher Robin told Pooh what it said, then Pooh could read.  (How about a reader like that?)  Owl, the expert, comes out with writing, like this,
     Try reading that aloud to your pre-literate five year old and describing what's wrong with the spelling.
      Finally, Arden broke down.  Real laughter came bubbling over when Piglet ran with that birthday balloon and popped it.  Even Ally laughed aloud, from the next room, when Eeyore proclaimed the popped red balloon his favorite color and size - Piglet's size.  In this world of friendship and love, it's all well in the end.  Eeyore sits down with his rag-of-a-balloon and finds it's just the right size to take in and out of the empty honey pot.  Then the voice of Christopher breaks in to the story concerned that he hadn't done anything for Eeyore.  As the Narrator describes Christopher Robin's party preparations, he's cut off, yes, Christopher Robin remembers.  Milne captured a whole world full of childhood love and imagination, helping even a mama like me to cherish the worlds of joy swirling here around me every day.

*I checked back in How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books, to be sure of Shepherd's trips to Milne's home.  In her notes Joan Bodger lists several biographies of Milne written for adults.  One with photos of the real true places.  Another written by the real true Christopher Robin, Christopher Milne.  Wouldn't those be fun?  I think I'll check the library. Or check The Page at Pooh Corner, for a brief biography and photos.  Be sure to see the toys!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Little Green Envy Bug

     I was bitten by a little green envy bug today.  It's not unusual.  I was looking at a blog, that's when it usually happens; all of your lives out there appear so much more beautiful, peaceful and enticing than my own.  Lindsey at the Pleated Poppy posted her studio tour.  Such a nice "studio."  Colors I like, full of fun fabrics, organized, and situated right in the play/school room.  I bet they never have a dull day or a family squabble in a room like that. I bet her kids would just sit right down at work and play and she'd be stitching at her machine making little lovelies and contributing to the household income.  (My husband stood behind me while I made the link, saying, "You know she took as long as she wanted to clean that up and all the junk is right here (pointing) outside the picture."  Think he knows my heart?)  From that point it was all downhill.  I perused my short blog list.  Turns out everybody has a life so much nicer than my own.
     Do I know this isn't true?  Absolutely.  Still, my day was suddenly so drab.  Helping my children with their school work wasn't a privilege and an act of service, it was keeping me from creativity.  Folding loads of laundry wasn't attention to duty, it was drudgery.  Feeding hungry stomachs seemed a second class activity to feeding my "soul."  But not the "soul" that seeks God.  I didn't even think about Him.  I couldn't have uttered one thankful, grateful word for the home and the people in it that He's appointed for me.
     There have been times when I've had to take a "blog" fast.  When I sit at the computer crying out of sheer covetousness, then I know I need a break.  Am I the only one this pitiful?  I won't fast today.  I looked in my heart and prayed through some quiet moments in the kitchen.  I squashed that green envy bug right there on the kitchen floor.  I went right back to flipping math fact cards, reading books, playing games, painting walls, vacuuming floors, fixing dinner, washing dishes and reading Bible stories.  I didn't photograph it for you.  You won't find anything in my etsy shop (right, I don't have one, I only dream).  Proverbs 21:20 describes the dwelling I want,
"There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise..."
     You might see some of my treasures, in photos or spelled out in words on this page.  I hope our home is filled with "treasure and oil" you'll never see, spilling over.  Take my word for it though, these are very ordinary treasures.  They're the kind you just might see if you look around your own home with a heart of wisdom, eyes of faith, and a will to work.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Flux

     We've been homeschooling our kids forever.  Education and discipleship start when they're ever so tiny, then at some point we ease into "real" school and just keep right on learning.  I'm a firm believer that education is a lifestyle, not relegated to a few short hours of the day.  Yet, we're always careful about obeying the law and my goal is having kids educated beyond the State's minimum level.  With all these years of experience, true confession, I still don't know exactly how to implement the overarching goals.  We love the Bluedorn's book, Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style, but it's a little beyond what I can accomplish.  We've tried Veritas Press, Sonlight, and Tapestry of Grace.   I give myself permission to spend the money, try it, and permission to decide it doesn't quite suit our family.  I wanted to try My Father's World, but learned about them after I had told Bryan never to allow me to spend money on curriculum again.  They're all good, but never resulted in the kind of gentle learning I wanted.  My favorite site for good ideas is Ambleside Online, but I never follow it exactly.  All of that is only so you understand, I might like something today, but not next year.  There are certain core principles I always stick with, but the peripherals are in flux.  I think it's okay.
     This summer my mom (who also homeschooled) was telling me about the Robinson Method.  I read all their pages online.  I didn't buy the curriculum.  It's against my new rule.  I didn't implement it exactly, no sugar and no TV we're too much for our family (those subjects ought to be a separate post).  We already use Saxon Math, free hand-me-downs from my mom, and well tested and proved by my siblings.  I found the list of Robinson Books online, and have chosen a few of them  In the end, it's probably not even fair to call what we do the Robinson Method.  However, his ideas set me free.  Children have remarkable abilities to learn.  I realized much of what I did slowed them down or amounted to busy work that I'd always tried to avoid.  We eliminated and simplified and bought more "real" books than I've ever bought before.  We follow a loose schedule of math, writing, reading (which in our house includes science).  Ally has thrived.  We started discussing next year and she wants her time relatively unchanged.
     Then there's Sam.  He's always happy to read a book.  He's great at math, but claims to hate every moment of it.  We started out the year having him work his lesson, grade it himself, make the corrections and do as much as he could in an hour and a half.  There was a character issue.  I was in despair, but Bryan looked at it as opportunity, and we say character is the most important aspect of education.  Sam started the book over, from the beginning, doing it right.  Gradually his work slowed.  Working for a set time demotivated him.  Progress dwindled to 5 or 6 problems in an hour and a half.  We laid down the law, the whole book would be finished, even if he worked every day of the summer.  Nothing changed. 
     Now it's January.  We decided Sam can't go on like this.  He might never finish Algebra 1/2.  I had visions of making him schedules with check boxes.  We reverted to our old rule, one lesson a day, every single problem.  Worked, graded, corrected, shown to his parents, and (the piece de resistance) put away in the notebook and on the shelf.  We make sure it happens.  Sam is back to finishing a lesson in 45 minutes, missing one problem, and he's happy.  He might work at 9 PM, in bed, or 11 AM.  Bryan and I had a revelation: maybe Sam doesn't like to do math at 8:30 AM, our traditional math hour.  Is that okay?  Sure, there's just no afternoon fun til the math lesson of the day is finished (meaning, if he does it at night it's the next day's lesson).
     There's a lesson in this.  It's not that we need a new curriculum for next year.  We just needed diligence, a draining, exhausting measure of it.  We needed flexibility.  Sam isn't like Ally.  Kara isn't like either of them, and I'm turning my attention to her school days next.  I can't even imagine what "school" will look like when Arden does it.  I only wish I was faster to learn, because you'd think I would know by now.  It's not all in the curriculum.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Tree of Life

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless."  James 1:26
     My tongue, it's difficult, unmanageable, and seemingly irredeemable.  I stand in grace, as Romans 5:2 says, but feel bent nearly double by the words of James.  We've been memorizing James 3, for a while now, and I carry those words with me through the day.  When the wrong words fly out of my mouth, the words of James weigh me down.  Why does God set such an impossibly high standard?  My words have been short tempered, too frank, and down right mean to my husband and kids.  Feeling burdened by my sin, my inability to control my tongue that James insists I must master, I come crying to God.  I admit, I come whining to God.  I read Matthew 11:28-29 and cry wet, hopeless tears because Jesus promises His yoke is easy and His burden is light, and then He follows that up with James 3, and speaking words of life seems to be a heavy yoke on my shoulders.  I've been asking Him questions.  Why does He command me to be perfect (Matt. 5:48), as He is, when I know I'm broken and it's only grace?  Why is there such a long list of the fruits and actions of a godly life, but He said this would be easy?
"For we all stumble in many ways.  If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well."  James 3:2
     I've come up with a little analogy, hopefully sound, but clearly not found in the Bible.  I am a woman in the deep sea, with the weight of my sin on my back, and though I try to swim for shore, I am pressed down, in the depths, facing certain death.  Christ comes, in a boat, and takes that sin burden off my shoulders and desires to take me to shore.  Sometimes I act as if Christ rows on ahead and cheers my strokes as I swim for land.  Sure, I'll get tired, and He'll throw a lifesaver if I go under, but there's a whole lot of swimming to be done.  I don't think that's what really happens.  I think Christ lifts that sin, but He never lets go, He's pulling me to shore.  He might lift me right into that boat.  All the time I'm still in the water, swimming as if my life depended on it, weary, arms flailing, words flying while I try to attain the impossible.  And just watch out if you get in the way of a godly woman striving for perfection.
"But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison."  James 3:8
 "But the tongue of the wise brings healing." Proverbs 12:18b
     This is a holy standard, and I won't try to mitigate it, manage it, compromise.  There is incontrovertible hope.  God doesn't leave me as He found me, or even as I am.  The gospel is for sinners, for me.  God loves me, but required Christ's death for my acceptance.  God loves me, but doesn't like the rash, harsh, foolish words I speak.  Truthfully, I don't always like myself either.  When I listen to His words of both Law and Grace, I am relieved, His Spirit changes me, to be like Christ.
"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ."  Phil. 1:6
     I want to speak healing words of life.  Only by His Spirit.
"A soothing tongue is a tree of life..." Prov. 15:4
"The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life..." Prov. 10:11

Monday, January 17, 2011

Geographica: Central Asia

     Ally spent her afternoon feverishly reading the conclusion of Our Mutual Friend (Oxford World's Classics) by Charles Dickens.  My sister in law gave me the BBC movie for Christmas, Our Mutual Friend, and we liked it so much that the next day we were off to the library to find the book.  This afternoon was interrupted by girlish giggling and romantic sighs, and you know Dickens always makes everything come out right for the hero or heroine, though things can be rather bleak all around them.  Obviously, Ally could not possibly be expected to write geography questions when the revelation of the family fortune was waiting in the wings and faithful love was about to be amply repaid.  This was no time for the atlas, only a warm spot on the couch with the book.  Now she's hastily constructing a little quiz for you.  I said I could blog about something else tonight, but followed my offer up with a weary sigh of, "I don't know what."  Smile.  She's a good girl, that Ally.

The Quiz: Central Asia
1.  The Aral Sea has lost ninety percent of it's water; the Aral Sea is on the border between Uzbekistan and what country?
2.  What country, with no railroads and few roads, has Kabul as it's capital and borders Pakistan on the south?
3.  The Kura River begins in the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgia; it then runs through T'Bilisi, then it flows into the Caspian Sea, just south of Baka, the capital of what country?
4.  The Indus River Valley and the Punjab Plains are in what country, that has its capital in Islamabad?
5.  The Syr Darya River begins in Kyrgyzstan and goes through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into what lake (sea)?
Bonus: (Ally says 110% to anyone who gets this question...)  Communism Peak, at 24,590, and Dushanbe, which is the capital, are in what country?

1.  Kazakhstan
2.  Afghanistan
3.  Azerbaijan
4.  Pakistan
5.  Aral Sea
Bonus:  Tajikistan (Bria says, I didn't get it right!)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Ask, Seek, Noke

"noke befor coming in"   
      I went to hang my purse and found these words of Kara's taped to the coat closet door, the space she moved into this morning with her school work, and over which she has now claimed ownership.  I love every bit of it, even the seven year old spelling that makes her mama cringe, but I know will be all right in time.  Here is the message, reproduced as I found it:
"if yo need a coat or Gloves or a hat
noke tree times if you are bringig me samthing
noke two times
if you are telling me somthing noke 1 time"
     Sometimes in a busy house, full of people, you just feel like you need a minute to be left alone, a space to call your own, a door to shut between the noise and needs of everyone else.  Don't I know all about that need?  Don't I know all about how soul weary I become when my needs aren't met?
     In Matthew 14, which I read this morning, Jesus upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist withdraws to a lonely place.  But not lonely enough.  As soon as the multitude heard of it they followed Him on foot, out to the not-so-lonely-anymore place.  I'm encouraged knowing even Jesus needed time alone with His Father, time away from the demands of the multitudes.  There's only one problem, Jesus is never alone for long.
     When Jesus sees this multitude He's full of compassion for them, healing their sick and refusing to send them away though the hour grows late.  This is a Savior I want, one who doesn't grow tired of people, people like me, coming and always wanting something more of Him.  He's full of compassion, even for me.
     Earlier in the Gospel narrative John the Baptist sent to Christ from prison wanting reassurance that He was indeed the Christ.  When Christ sent His answer, His conclusive proof that He was the Messiah, He didn't speak of hours in prayer or signs of God's glory.  The proof  Jesus sent was a list of His acts of compassion, acts that fulfilled the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 35:5-6 and Matthew 11:1-6).  This compassionate Savior is the One Isaiah looked to in hope.
     Any encouragement I receive from Christ's times of solitude must be quickly followed by the call to compassion.  Like Christ I must welcome these interruptions remembering that little sheep need a Shepherd and I am pointing them to Him.  Christ didn't call me to live alone, in a convent, or as a hermit in the desert (though it sounds SO enticing).  Christ has called me to live here, in the midst of family and community.  Christ has called me to be present and full of compassion, just like He was.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Camel Hat

     When Arden saw Sam's new hat he shouted out, "a helmet."  I'd been putzing on Sam's hat since before Christmas, but Arden would have none of that.  Minutes after the last yarn end had been woven in, Arden announced he was going to look for yarn.  He came back from the yarn baskets with a blue and green sock yarn, so I sent him back to bring the whole basket.  We settled on the combination of this green and gray, the brand's a mystery.  All day he kept commanding, "Mom, work on my hat."  Of course I didn't mind complying.  We tried to talk him into using green only on the brim, but he liked it, called it camel-flage, and that settled it.  I finished up that camouflage hat in a day (No, it's not "so Arkansas."  First, we're not from here.  Second, we don't hunt.  Bryan's only interest in the outdoors lies on the soccer field and whether the sun shines or the wind blows during practice), but a mother's knitting is never done.  Kara was already in line for a hat of her own, so that's what I've been doing today.  Kara's hat, which reminds me of a beehive and isn't exactly what I envisioned when I started out, still needs ear flaps.   I use Kim's hat pattern from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, which provides a nice reliable starting point for all kinds of different hats.  And I can't feel bad about knitting with the yarn on hand!

A glimpse of our normal school day supplies - timers, Legos, copywork

     It's always satisfying to make something with your own hands.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Rooster Named Pola Negri

     They're drawn in by the laughter, wondering what could be so funny behind the pages of the oversize book.  Soon there are three snuggled around me, one on each side and one stretched out on the back of the couch behind us.  The book was funny, unexpectedly funny.  The title didn't draw us in, Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm, it seemed rather dull.  The cover art didn't draw us in, boring, didactic, perhaps no more fun than learning that a cow eats grass.  And so the book was shelved, unread, brand new and never opened, for half a year. 
     Arden and I were laughing after a couple of pages.  The cats did us in.  A page full of cat pans and spitting cats, boring cats and good cats, playing cats and mothering cats.  The spitting really got us chuckling.  The names the Provensens chose kept the humor in motion.  There was the rooster named Pola Negri.  Another named Big Shot who liked to fight and hated children and his come-uppance was in being carried off by a fox.  A horse named Ibn Rafferty and a beloved ewe known as Old Eleven.  And pages of dogs.  Sweeney, who's not around any more, and one poor little dog who ran away and no one remembers his name (we laughed and laughed).
    There are imperfect horses and imperfect ponies, and as the Provensens point out, imperfect people.  Still it's fun to know them.  It's fun to know all those animals with their idiosyncrasies, dogs that carry rocks, geese that like horses, silly sheep and goats that make every one angry.  We were glad to meet them.
     Our actual experience with animals is scant.  We had a grouchy old cat, who died this spring, but she made us laugh.  Once she performed a surprise leap off the microwave cart, into the side of Sam's head and knocked a two year old clean off his feet.  We have a little dog.  She's a lot easier to live with, but she can't make us laugh the way the way that bad cat could.  Over Thanksgiving a stray dog wormed his way into our affections.  We were hoping that if ignored he'd wander on, but Kara shattered those hopes, hanging over the bed at 7 AM and saying,"We found a little dog.  We named him Scotty Jim.  Can we feed him?"  When the thunder storm struck Scotty Jim was smart enough to let himself in and make himself comfortable on the rug.  Wasn't he good not to sit on the couch?  My kids still talk about Scotty Jim, he won our affections and we hope he has a good home.  At times we wish for chickens, horses or sheep.  Bryan has drawn a firm line - no more animals.  Bryan used to do 4-H in his youth; we thought differently of him.  For now we just go on wishing for a little hobby farm, wishing in the same way we wish we'd win the lottery, but we never buy a ticket.  But we love to read books like this written by someone who cares for animals, all sorts.

Scotty Jim

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Model Mower

     It's 7:24 am.  I'm standing at the bedroom window, watching the wakening world.  Jack drives past in his black truck.  Jack is our neighbor.  Our retired neighbor.  All winter he's up early, headed off to work in a factory, or sales, or mail order.  I'm not sure exactly what they do there.  All summer we see Jack mowing lawns.  We see him all over town, and the kids and I talk about how many he must cut each week.  We see him all over the neighborhood, mowers on the black truck.  Some days his grandkids mow along beside him, usually he's alone, behind a push mower.  I don't know if he works from necessity, or if he just can't sit still, or maybe some of both.
     It's 7:25 and I'm standing at the window feeling sorry for Jack.  I feel bad that a man would work so long, that life would be so hard.  Bryan comes in behind me, wraps his arms around me, asks me what I'm thinking there beside the window.  I tell him I feel sorry for Jack.
     Bryan?  He's wise and grounded.  He says there's nothing wrong with working hard. 
     "When we get old I hope we're just like him."

Bryan and Arden mowing our grass this spring.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Geographica: The Middle East

     Ally is studying for the State Geo Bee in earnest these days.  We don't know for certain that she qualified, but we're assuming she will.  Today she's been pouring over maps of the provinces or states in Argentina, Brazil and China.  I feel so proud of her, just watching her work.  At this point it doesn't matter how well she does in competition, she's shown us hard working, persistent, self-motivated character qualities and in my eyes, that's success enough.  Here's the quiz she prepared for you today:

1.  An average of 50,000 ships travel the Bosporus per year; the Bosporus links the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea in what country?

2.  The Dead Sea is between Israel and Jordan and is the lowest point on Earth; the Dead Sea is on what river?

3.  Muslims make pilgrimages to Mecca.  Mecca is in what country that has the largest oil reserves in the world?

4.  The Babylonian and the Persian empires were in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates in what present day country?

5.  What country is between the Caspian Sea to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south?

1.  Turkey
2.  The Jordan
3.  Saudi Arabia
4.  Iraq
5.  Iran

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Value of Honor

"For the love of distinction has all but flown away and pleasures are now considered more valuable than honor."
  - Manuel II Palaiologos, 1409, father of the last Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
     My brother shared this quote on his Facebook page a few weeks ago.  I am shamelessly borrowing it.  The words have made a lasting impression on me.  It's easy, at first, to point the finger at the culture at large and find fault by this standard.  My brother commented that he thinks it's perennially true.  Aren't we all sinners, in the mire, though we may see a better way right before us?
     I am doing the harder work and examining my own heart.  Do I love pleasure or do I love honor?  How do I think of my time while I drink my morning coffee?  What are my considerations after the kids are tucked in for the night?  What do I do with a wide open Saturday (like today), my only obligation the preparation of a Sunday School lesson?  Can you guess my answer?   I am a pleasure lover.  A glutton for pleasure. 
     I'm meditating on Proverbs 31, a woman of distinction indeed.
"'Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all.'  Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.  Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

To Spend and Be Expended

     Do the Apostle Paul and I have something in common?  I don't believe there are "apostles" any more, a special office during the foundational time of the church.  I believe men are to be the shepherds and overseers of the church, not women.  And though Paul would call himself the greatest of sinners, I'm absolutely sure his heart was oriented toward Christ in a way mine isn't.  Paul knew Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3).
     The words of Paul encourage me in my "office."  God has given me a tiny little portion of His church to care for, four little souls to nurture and introduce to the Living God.  I pray for kingdom fruitfulness, but long for my first fruits to be the hearts here at home.  Over Christmas I read 2 Corinthians 12:15 and have adopted these words of Paul as my motto for the spring: 

"  I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls."
      If I am to do God's work well it requires a lot of me.  Students aren't self-teaching.  The house isn't self-cleaning.  Hearts aren't self-encouraging.  Good character isn't self-forming.  The work of God requires faith, for both myself and my little ones, that life is all about the unseen and invisible.  Life is not about the lust of my eyes, nor pleasures of the flesh, or accomplishments of which I could boast (1 John 2:16).  I have to choose, again and again, to spend and be expended for souls.  My other favorite words as mother, found in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3:
  "You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God , not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Geographica: Europe

Here's Ally's quiz of the week:
1.  The Laps live in Lapland and herd reindeer.  Lapland is in Norway, Sweden and what other country?
2.  Amsterdam's inner city is divided by canals into 90 "islands."  Amsterdam and The Hague are the capitals of what country?
3.  The Channel Tunnel is 31 miles long and took seven years to build.  It runs under the English Channel from the UK to what European country?
4.  In Ajaccio, Corsica on August 15, 1769 Napoleon Bonaparte was born.  Corsica belongs to what country?
5.  Transylvania, the Carpathian Mountains and the mouth of the Danube River are in what country?
And a Bonus Question:  The Balkan Mountains are on the Balkan Peninsula in what country on the Black Sea?

The Answers:
1.  Finland
2.  The Netherlands
3.  France
4.  France
5.  Romania
Bonus:  Bulgaria

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Little Late

     We're home again, having made our way half way across the US without incident.  We're unpacking bags and finding places for Christmas gifts.  There are still Christmas decorations to organize and pack away for next year.  In a sense my new year is beginning now, a few days late.  So today I want to share the most important reading I do in any year - the Bible.
     Years ago we had a godly pastor, one I admired for his gentle spirit and wisdom, who advised reading the Bible not according to a plan, but according to our interest and God's leading.  I tried it but I don't seem to be as attuned to God's Spirit as others are.  Many days I wasn't interested in opening the Bible at all.
     I am more of a goal oriented person.  Maybe it's less "spiritual" but what I need to keep me coming back to God's word for sustenance is a checklist.  A through the Bible in a year plan.  The wonder of it is how often the day's assigned passage speaks directly to my heart and the events of that day.  It's God's Spirit, always at work in His children.
     Even though it's past the first of the year, I'll share my links.  And if you don't have a plan to come daily to His Word, you can try one, starting on the 3rd or 4th or even May 10th.  There's no magic on January 1, making goals and resolutions all come to pass.  We have discipline and resolve which we can apply at any time, growing in wisdom at all times.
     This plan from John Piper's church, Bethlehem Baptist, which I've used for several years.  I like it because there are 25 daily readings for every month.  No matter how good my intentions I seem to fall behind and like those few days of margin.
     This year I am going to try the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan.  I found it in a handy pamphlet at church and thought it might be nice for a change.
Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge; for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, that they may be ready on your lips.  So that your trust may be in the LORD, I have taught you today, even you.  Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge...?  Proverbs 22:17-20