Monday, February 28, 2011

Goodness in a Silent Afternoon

     The daffodils parade in a yellow so brazen it hurts the eyes, yet hang their heads in such humility you have to go low to see their faces.  After the snow melt, they've pushed up through the pine needles in the back corner of the yard, flaunting beauty in the three o'clock sun.  The cardinals are courting in the bushes behind, the jilted male, a third wheel, leaves in a hurry and flies so close to my head he scares me.  The hawk is hunting, flying high over tree tops.  Large and awkward the bumble bee makes his way to nectar, he too hears their siren song.  And so I sit, silent, on the cat's gravestone, waiting.  The words of  Psalm 62 come, from the days when we sang the Psalter in church,

"Surely in silence my soul waits on God, for my salvation comes from Him."

     But when the congregation sang it out, the Psalm sounded like lament.  Today is no lament.  I am waiting.  Silent.  I am watching His work, rejoicing.  Then I think of Wordsworth, his crowd, his host of daffodils:

I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon the inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
     Aren't we to gather God's goodness the way we gather daffodils, the memory of His goodness being our heart's treasure long after the flower of the moment fades and falls?

*Note on Geographica:  I'm going to try moving Ally's quizzes to Fridays' posts and see if that suits our schedule better than Mondays.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Even For Me

"Coming sinner, whatever promise you find in the Word of Christ, strain it as much as you can, so long as you do not corrupt it, and his blood and merits will answer all."  John Bunyan

 "But every time a godly man reads the Scriptures (remember this when you are reading the Scripture) and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say,  This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it."  Jeremiah Burroughs

 "If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased."  C. S. Lewis

     I have been thinking long on these quotes.  Thinking long on promises in the Scripture.  I've found Colossians 1:9-11 in which Paul prays for a full knowledge of the will of God, all spiritual wisdom and understanding, walking worthy, pleasing the Lord in all respects, fruit bearing good works, an increasing knowledge of God, strengthening and attaining all steadfastness and patience and finishing off with a joyous giving of thanks.  I've reread Luke 6:38 in which Jesus says our giving is given back "pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap."  I can't help but think of Ephesians 3:14-21 and lay my hand on my Bible, asking for God's riches in glory to be bestowed on me exceedingly abundantly beyond all that I ask or think.  And here I find a difficulty, I don't know what God's exceeding abundance looks like in such an ordinary person.
     Today time has passed slowly.  Today has been a day for cups of tea beside piles of kleenex, and girls laying flushed under quilts.  Today has been a day for digging in the mud, adding compost, and pulling out weeds.  There has been time for thinking and daffodil gazing and playing with the camera.  Today has been a day for scrubbing toilets, hanging laundry in the sun, and reading stories on the couch.  There has been time for a few stolen pages of Dorothy Sayers and an allowance for an English teaspoon filled with sugar stirred in my tea.  Today has been a day for daffodils in grandma's crystal and the bubbling excitement of giving a gift.
     God is in the midst of all of this and promises an exceedingly abundantly beyond, and that promise stretches my belief.  I need faith, the assurance of things hoped for, and so I ask for it and dare to believe God's promises are even for me.  Even for me.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Birthday Affair

     Sam's handmade gift for Bryan was a chessboard, chess being the current game du jour.  We only have three other chessboards, collected on travels or as gifts, but not one handmade.  Sam sawed scrap wood into a square, and painted on the chessboard pattern all by himself.  Then he came looking for help, wondering how to make chess pieces.  He thought maybe he could carve them.  This was one week out from The Day, and as nice as that would have been, I thought it might be too challenging, with no prior carving experience. Oh, to be young and dream big!  Old and jaded by too many frustrated projects, I suggested oven bake clay.  While I read aloud to them, the kids rolled and cut.  There followed a flurry of new birthday ideas for Dad.  Arden was sure Dad would want a "chest" set from him too, but we talked him down to a set of checkers and a shared board with Sam.  Then Kara dreamed up a tic-tac-toe set and whipped one out of left over clay.

     Dinner preparation was an all day affair.  In the end it was delicious and we arrived at the Double Chocolate Torte already fully satisfied, but there's no skipping birthday cake.  The torte was rich.  How rich?  Nine eggs and a pound of chocolate went into that torte.  Bryan asked if it was related to fudge.  We liked it, but in the end decided next time to go back to a true cake with flour, light and fluffy.  The backwards seven?  Someone dyslexic put that on the cake, and we laugh and carry on.  Actually she's not dyslexic, but it makes a mom wonder.  Really, the number in reverse is there so that you won't be able to tell how old Bryan is, a distraction technique.

     Bryan is the kind of wonderful Dad who opens all these sweet surprises and praises every one.  He calls for quick games with the givers.  The Little Giver has been so excited all day he could just hardly keep the secret.  The Medium Giver has a whole stack of gifts, and confesses to Dad that they didn't cost much, and cries out with dismay, the paper tic-tac-toe board wrapped in the gift was wrinkled.  But Dad's the kind of man who can smooth out paper.  The final touch to the chess set was a storage pouch, designed by Ally and stitched by Sam, who doesn't often sew.  This is how we celebrate birthdays here, nothing expensive, yet all priceless, to honor a Dad who we love more than any other.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bedding Down the Boys

     Arden is hard core.  He sleeps on the floor.  I've tried to find a reason why it might not be acceptable practice, but I can't, so I let the boy sleep on the floor.  I roll him in his blanket, and make sure he has his little fireman pillow, I call him a "turkey sandwich" (as in "you little turkey," but he doesn't know and thinks it's nonsense, which I guess it is.  Why do turkeys deserve that sort of aspersion cast upon their kind?) and kiss him goodnight.  He likes to tell me his bed is hard as a rock, his mattress from the furniture store.  Arden tells me to sell it at a yard sale.  My motherly intuition tells me to hang on to the bed, it may someday be important.  Maybe when he's six he'll make a comparison between the bed and floor and change his mind.
     Meanwhile, Sam senses an opportunity.  I try to make them keep that room clean.  I try to have them pick every toy up off that floor every day.  But they are boys, they know my weaknesses.  And one of my weaknesses is the now deserted bed, after all, those things aren't technically on the floor.  Sam has appropriated Arden's bed for the over-flow books from the top bunk.  The I-have-so-many-books-I-can't-curl-up-on-my-bed-any-more-over-flow.  Sam does sleep with books, I guess when you're under five feet you don't need all of your mattress to stretch out.
     Tonight I was looking at those over-flow books, thinking about the life of a boy.  He has stashed his Encyclopedia of Swords and Sabers here below.  There's The Good Fight : How World War II Was Won, which he recently rediscovered and moved from the hall to his room.  There's a Dorothy Sayers book of short mystery stories.  A Latin textbook, a Bible and his Bible study notebook.
    What are Sam's current top bunk books, the things he sleeps with, in lieu of a bear or any other such commonplace item?  What does Sam love?  Here we find The Dangerous Book for Boys, always close at hand.   Another Latin textbook and a Latin reader.  A notebook of sketches.  Two World War II Encyclopedias for children.  A well read copy of The Three Musketeers (Puffin Classics), which is abridged.  I've bought an unabridged copy, but Sam hasn't tried it yet.  Sam keeps his nice Bible up here, and some loose papers.  I don't even want to dig through and know what they are.  Then, lest we think we can cubby hole him, and figure him out, you'll find a knitting project and a roll of masking tape (I didn't let myself ask, but I have been wondering how that roll of tape had disappeared).
     Instead of stressing about the mess, I'm rejoicing in the boy.  The stacked disaster is Sam developing his own interests, his own overflowing pile of books to feed the curiosity and imagination.  I love that boy!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading at a Feverish Pace

     Kara is a little sick today, a little cough, a little fever keeping her quiet on the couch.  What do we do on a sick day?  We set aside formal school activities and we read and read some more.  We read Snow White.  We play Sorry and Kara begins filling her new sketch pad.  We read Peter Pan.  Barrie makes me laugh aloud as I voice the tale, though it does require censorship, his unique style and stunning vocabulary are well worth knowing.  Bryan and I walk to the college library over his lunch break, discussing on the way home the sheer number of books we wish we could read.  What if you started at one end of the library and read to the other, with permission to skip a few of the boring or offensive volumes?  We come home with hefty books, art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  We bring Ally a couple volumes on Queen Elizabeth.  We bring Sam fodder for his WWII curiosity.  And for the sick child on the couch a book on the solar system and Houdini.  We read again in the afternoon, Little Pilgrims Progress and the next adventure of Peter Pan.  We read to ourselves during quiet time.  We'll read again tonight, warm in the lamplight under the cold dark sky.  And we'll hope when Kara's lamp is turned off she'll sleep quiet and undisturbed through the night and wake up new tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Geographica: Northern Africa

    Well, here we are and it is Tuesday.  Have you noticed the geography quiz is typically Monday's post?  Mondays are always busy here, and I'm trying to figure out how to fit it all into the available hours.  This week, the Geographica post will just have to be on Tuesday, and we'll just continue on.  I'm plotting a birthday dinner on Thursday and was helped out more than once by Epicurious in planning an Italian menu.   I'm going to attempt, with my assistant chefs: homemade gnocchi, homemade noodles, homemade sauce, roasted garlic crostini with assorted toppings, wilted spinach salad with portobello mushrooms and a double chocolate torte.  We will be busy and we will be a size larger on Friday.  Bryan will probably say it is all too much work, but I think we'll have fun.  If I wanted to get carried away, like those other homeschoolers, we would make it a mini-unit study all about Italy with maps and photos and, of course, cuisine.  I will hold myself back and simply try to accomplish dinner at 6:30 Thursday evening.  But (smile) there will be no holding back on the reigns, I'm not one of those others and if you're here looking for ideas on how to become so very other yourself, I'm afraid I will disappoint.  I should stop meandering and come to the point, if you are here looking for a geography quiz, written by a lovely 13 year old who adores her atlas, then you will be thrilled to test your knowledge with this (I think she could have at least humored me and created a quiz on Italy, but alas!):
Quiz: Northern Africa
1.  With the Straight of Gibraltar to the north and the Atlas Mountains in the south, name this country whose largest city is Casablanca.
2.  What country, that was once on the Barbary Coast, also has the Great Eastern Erg and the Ahaggar Mountains?
3.  The Valley of the Kings, the Qattara Depression, and the Aswan High Dam are in what country that was once ruled by the Ptolemaic Dynasty?
4.  The rich and powerful city of Carthage, destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC and later rebuilt, was in what country on the Mediterranean Sea that now has Tunis as its capital city?
5.  Leptis Magna is in the region of Tripolitania, and is a World Heritage Site because it is a well preserved Roman city.  Leptis Magna is in what country, also containing the Gulf of Sidra and the capital of Tripoli?


1.  Morocco
2.  Algeria
3.  Egypt
4.  Tunisia
5.  Libya

Friday, February 18, 2011

Last Year's Marigolds

     In August of last year I proclaimed myself an Erstwhile Gardener.  An Erstwhile Gardener being one who is a former grower of living things, one whose garden dreams have been arrested, one so weary of the battle that dried asparagus and chrysanthemum stems stand through the winter and right on into the summer if no one else takes them in hand.   I scoff at the Martha Stewart Gardening Issue, I too thought I had a green thumb when I planted in locations that only required seeds, tossed haphazardly in the ground.
     Today is spring.  Spring brings hope.  Reluctantly I take the rake in hand and am irresistibly drawn to weeding, and to hope.  This is a vain, misguided hope.  This hope will be chewed through like Swiss cheese.  This hope will be damaged at the roots by the tunneling mole.  This hope will be beaten down by the rain, by the hail, or by the children.  I'd like to tell you this hope will persevere, but I can't.  Still I am unable to restrain myself.  I hum Great is Thy Faithfulness while the breeze blows soft and a stick battle rages across the grass, one lone boy against a host of invisible enemies.  My finger nails are black and I feel the dirt, wondering if there's any promise.  Kara builds a kite made of plastic that cannot fly.  I think of Habakkuk 3:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food...
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

     I come in and I look at seeds and wonder if there's still time to change my mind and order a few, just a few, more varieties.  What about a red okra?  It ought to grow, this is the South after all, I could concede a little ground.  I'm vowing to plant a few, just a few, things; lots of basil, some Pink Heart tomatoes, Japanese Long cucumbers, Little Gem lettuce (if you grow heirloom seeds for no other reason, at least do it for the names).  The problem is that stinking seed catalog, mine is from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, is like a trellis for the hope in my heart.  I'm defeated before I have begun, yet I can't stop myself, hope's tendrils have wrapped round my heart.  I do have plenty of seeds from last year's marigolds, and as an alternative I could carpet my beds with simple, indefatigable cheer.  But I am afraid it's too late.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Are You Up To?

     My brother broke down and bought a coffee roaster, an entry level model, and he thinks I should do the same and sell coffee to recoup my costs.  He does have experience roasting his own beans, his previous roaster was a homemade model with an old coffee can and a drill.  I knew he'd been designing his own, on the computer, but is slowed by the cost of the precision parts he would need to do the job well.  We chatted about the roaster, his new hand turned espresso bean grinder, his plans for a traveling French press and electric kettle.  I tease him about setting up a coffee shop in his cubicle, competing with the in house cafe located several floors down.  Next he's talking about precision machine parts and their cost and plans for making his own.  He's been researching online, discovering other people's methods of setting up their own shop.  You only have to melt down the aluminum, 800 degrees that's all, ordinary charcoal will work.  However, aluminum is so soft, perhaps something harder, then you need oil heat and the neighbors may object to belching black smoke in the yard.  Melting points of various metals being the lingua franca of the engineer, this is fun for my brother.  When I'm done on the phone I'm laughingly recounting my brother's escapades.
     I had a friend, the dear one who taught me to knit, and going to her house was always an adventure.  She was always stitching beautiful knitting projects, sweaters, bitty booties, beaded bracelets and hats galore.  She was dying her own wool with natural dyes, felting wool, she was spinning and had piles of fleece everywhere, with children running in between.  Her husband was painting furniture or building a trellis of fallen sticks for the postage stamp yard.  I loved being there, not only because of her godly challenge to me, but because they were always up to something and it was interesting.  Fascinating.
     I think we ought to be up to something.  When the TV is on it's usually the only thing happening.  Julia Child (I'm sorry to refer to her again, I was listening to a CD by Victoria Botkin and this quote was included, this has nothing to do with my cookbook), upon the advent of TV wondered why Americans would waste a perfectly good evening staring at a box.  Americans, who traditionally were known for industry, seem perfectly content to waste every evening staring at the box.  I think we ought to rejoice in a unique home, with decor and projects dictated not by fads or sales at the craft store or TV designers, but by the things we love and things we've made.  Our homes ought to be interesting.  We ought to relish life with in its walls.
     Honestly, I doubt you'd find my house interesting when you walked through the door.  I don't ever watch TV, and only a few movies, but time is short and when I'm free, I'm usually behind the covers of a book.  I don't have much to show for all the words I process.  I make the effort, do a few things, and love to see my children up to projects of their own.  I hope we're all fascinated here, fascinated with discovery and creation.  Fascinated by beauty inspired by the Creator of all beauty, who made us, every one, unique. 

     What are you up to?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Conversation with the Chef: Multi-Tasking

     I've come to realize I am no multi-tasker, no matter what conventional wisdom about women decrees.  I've inherited it from my mother.  I've laughed at her for years because she seemed incapable of making garlic bread under the broiler without burning the bread.  When I was still home there were many hurried scraping sessions over the kitchen sink, scraping charcoal edges off what was meant to be golden bread.  Now that I'm the chief chef, I can't really be trusted to use the broiler either.  I can't "constantly stir" the white sauce with one hand and grate cheese with the other, it seemed do-able, but it's not.  I'm learning to slow down a little.  I'm portioning out dinner preparation so I can work on one task at a time.  I see now the beauty of mise en place, rather than flying by the seat of my pants, apron strings trailing in the wind behind me.  Except I often don't have my apron on, no time, no time, only to cry out in dismay.  Now my good man just takes my apron off the hook and slips it over my head.  Julia Child in her introduction to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 says:
"Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food."
     Ah, yes.   Next, bearing bowls of half-decent cooking (because I won't dare to call it "fine food"), I throw dinner on the table.  Or if it's a good night there's a candle or a tablecloth, and the kids have set the table.  We all sit down, a willing volunteer thanks God for our food and in fifteen minutes or less my hour in the kitchen has been negated.  I've nothing to show for it but a pile of dirty dishes and a few crumbs on the floor the dog snuffles up in gratitude.  Oh, I know, there's much to be said for the power of the table, and nourishing growing bodies with good food, and nourishing minds and souls with thoughtful conversation.  But don't you ever feel that hint of discouragement, all that work, for what?  What's needed is multi-tasking, accomplishing more than just dinner in my hour, yet I know I can't walk and chew gum at the same time.  (Yes, my college swim teacher told me so.  I know it's true.)
     What is needed is a child.  One set of willing hands, anxious to learn and spend some quiet minutes with mom.  I know I need to allow a little extra time, small sized fingers fumble at the newness of the tasks.  Even the five year old slices olives, or cuts pepper slices into bites, I only need to allow some irregularity.  I thought this through the other night while the seven year old tore apart broccoli florets.  When we placed the bowl of steamed broccoli on the table, I had done more than just prepare a side dish.  I had prepared a daughter, for real life and cooking adventures.  She does love spices, so I have no doubt her life will be full of cooking adventures.  She's the one who thinks Ethiopian berbere in guacamole is the flavor of all things good.
     This mind set, of teaching while doing, pays rich dividends.  Here's a little peek into my Valentine's surprise.  Ally, 13, made chicken pot pie (no Pillsbury crust, flour and butter and water) and a batch of scratch frosting.  Sam, 10, made a salad.  Kara, 7, baked brownies.  They set dinner on the table and all disappeared, up the stairs with sandwiches in hand, to play games and watch a movie.  Bryan and I had a date, at the dining room table.  And we didn't have to force them, the kids were anxious to surprise us.
     We've never taken a cooking class, we make dinner with the cookbook open or the computer on the counter (far from spills).   I've never bored my kids with a textbook titled "Nutrition," we talk as we work about why veggies are different colors and the nutritional value of a tortilla.  We cook together, and we also love to eat together, which doesn't hurt either. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Geographica: North America

     If you saw the title and thought these questions would all be about the United States, because what other country is in North America?  You may be a bit surprised.  Oh, yes, well, Canada too.  True, but there are other countries as well.  Stretch the brain and enjoy the quiz.

Quiz: North America
1.  Which Central American country depends on the US dollar, relies on coffee as an export and has the volcano of Santa Ana?
2.  The Islas de la Bahia, or the Bay Islands, are a tourist destination belonging to a country that also has the large city of San Pedro Sula.
3.  La Citadelle Laferriere, the largest fortress in the western hemisphere, and a World Heritage Site, is in which country on one-third of the island of Hispaniola?
4.  The Mackenzie River flows from the Great Slave Lake to the Beaufort Sea in which Canadian province?
5.  The Ungava Peninsula is on the eastern side of the Hudson Bay in which Canadian province, that borders the USA?


1.  El Salvador
2.  Honduras
3.  Haiti
4.  Northwest Territories
5.  Quebec

Bria's note:  I am often unfamiliar with places on Ally's geography quizzes and love to look them up, especially in photos.  It's one thing to read about the Beaufort Sea and quite another to see it, blue and filled with ice.  Beautiful.  Today I looked up La Citadelle Laferriere and was amazed.  Here is a link from Travel Adventures, scroll down and see photos of the cannon and the roof structure.  Or, for a short history lesson, read the description on the Unesco site.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday's Projects

     And so, you see what I have done today, besides all the usual Saturday tasks.  A felted heart swag that now hangs facing the dining room.  I used felted sweaters I bought years ago, on half-off day at the thrift store.  I felted them all, inspired by Warm Fuzzies: 30 Sweet Felted Projects, then decided I had neither the time nor inclination to actually make the projects.  I've been thinking I ought to just get rid of that box, taking up space, inducing guilt, but today I had supplies for a free Valentine's craft.  When I finished I tucked the felted sweater box back in the closet;  now innumerable cute projects can hang over my head for three more years until the next day I find time.  Ah, time.  I held the hearts together with invisible thread, also tucked in the sewing box from a long ago project.  Invisible thread is rather difficult to use because it is...invisible.  I had to call in the thirteen year old, with better eyes, to help with the tricky parts.  Then using paper from a gift tag project (two years ago) and stickers I bought to adorn verse cards over the kitchen sink (four years ago) and pre-cut purple ribbon, (an unauthorized kiddy craft) I made these little cards.  Monday I plan to write on each, "through love serve one another."  I'm hoping to do some of their chores for them as my sweet surprise.  I'd write them all ahead of time, but I'm not sure how many chores I'll actually get done.  I have to get up earlier than usual to walk the dog before Bryan does, and work fast to unload the dish washer before Ally finishes the job.  Thankfully, the person who does the laundry should be easy to beat.  I'll have a little edge.  That will be Valentine's Day here, a little candy, a dinner we all enjoy, and a little love.  I'm not spending much money, not filling our homes and hearts with stuffy-stuff.  Simple service, the hands and feet of love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

When He Was Three

     "Mom, we hardly ever do what we did when I was three."
     I know there's something behind this, this is no general philosophical observation about a boy's growth process.  Yesterday in the tub we played the game we played "when I was three."  A game of bubbles and water mixed into coffee shop steamers, which mom pretends to sip to her heart's content.  Now that he's five the game is much improved by the addition of spices, which I pretend are far too spicy for my taste.  Today I wonder, "What are you thinking of?"
     "My math we did when I was three."
     I'm wracking my brain, what was the "math" we used to do that he enjoyed so well?  I'm coming up blank and ask him to tell me.  The much loved math game was a homemade Montessori game, the Spindle Box, only in the plastic-Walmart and scrap paper version.  We played it often as he learned to count to ten.  Today I tell him we don't play it anymore because it's too easy for him, now that he's five and counting by fives.  I don't think it would be fun anymore, but he's sure, and he tests his theory beside me on the floor.  He counted out the sticks - once.  The game was easy, but it was fun when he was three.  He's re-living the good old days, now that he's five.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Those in Prison

     Arden and I are reading  Little Pilgrim's Progress.  He listens to long stretches of the story, captivated, begging for more.  I call him Little Pilgrim when I make his breakfast, and he smiles, appreciating the comparison.  Today Christian and Hopeful are captured by the Giant Despair,
"He drove them before him across the fields to his house, which was called Doubting Castle, and put them into a dark dungeon, locking the door behind him.  All day and all night they lay upon the bare ground, without either food or water, and not even able to see each other.  Hopeful crept close to Christian, and they clung together, wondering whether the Giant would soon come and put them to death." (p. 109)
     I think of prisoners, far away, in a foreign prisons, alone and in darkness.  I think of prisoners in Iran's Evin Prison.  I think of names unfamiliar to my English tongue, Rasool Abdolahi, Leila Akhavan, Mojtaba Keshavarz, and twenty three others.  Many hundreds of others throughout the world in prison for the sake of Jesus Christ.
     My service to Christ involves scrubbing the toilets and shepherding little hearts.  My service involves inviting the lonely to my table.  My service involves sharing small parts of abundance.  My service to Christ involves quiet prayers of thanks and submission.  My service seems an easy path.
     Their service involves secrecy and loneliness.  Their service calls for courage and calls forth fears.  Their service involves physical pain and cold and real darkness.  The giant of despair may stalk their cells.
       I wonder if maybe, as per Neil Postman, my problem is just knowing too much of far away suffering, a kind of suffering I have no power to alleviate.  Using resources a sovereign God has given, we know more than any other people in history has ever known.  At the same time in the 20th century, one in which we thought we knew too much, 45 million Christians, or two thirds of all the martyrs in history, died for their faith.  These two are simultaneous and it is not an accident.  Somehow God orchestrates this world today, and I can't begin to understand the why and how of world history.  In Hebrews 13:3 I am commanded to
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill treated, since you yourselves are also in the body.
      After lunch I stand in the yard and listen to the quiet.  The myriad drops from the icicles falling in a steady rhythm.  The cardinal's brazen red against the dark boughs, and the robin's flight across the blue beyond.  I stand and think of those in chains.  I come in to children playing games on a sunny floor and the tea kettle's warm, and wonder how I can remember prisoners as though I am in prison with them.
     As Christian and Hopeful attempt to escape the Giant's castle, with the key the all-wise God provided beforehand, the last lock is too stiff.  Though little Christian pressed hard against it, the key would not turn.  Despair may press in hard at any moment.  Though Hopeful urges him to hurry, Christian cannot open that gate, not until Hopeful also puts his hand upon Christian's and with two, they turn the key.
     If I could I would lay my own hand, warm and full of life, on that of one who suffers for Love.  I would offer the sunny corner of the couch and bring the sufferer tea.  I would listen long and quietly, because I have no doubt that this one knows something of Christ that I do not.  But I cannot.  I can not.  Feeling helpless I can only, only, pray that in a solitary cell, in far away Evin prison, Christ Himself would lay His hand over the sufferer's and help that one to fight the Giant of Despair.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Eye for Love

     Bryan and I have been married 15 years.  Before that we dated for 2 years.  He's had 17 Valentine's Day opportunities.  How many of those opportunities have I decided he's wasted, for lack of thought or effort, disappointing me?  He's not a dreamy romantic.  He's not a flashy spender.  He's not a foodie.  All these years I've spent waiting...waiting for the Valentine of my dreams.
     Bryan is the man of my dreams.  Those thrilling, blood rushing, heart pounding joys of just holding his hand have settled.  They've settled into a steady, dependable, deeper love.  I pray, often, to love him more.  That God would make up the love I lack in my heart.  And today I thought, I need to look harder for Valentine gifts, the gifts of love scattered through the ordinary.
     Bryan has a few plans for Valentine's Day.  This weekend I'm not looking for roses on the table.  I'm not waiting for his heart poured out in poetry.  I'm not expecting diamonds or pearls, and certainly not hearts crafted in gold (because I probably wouldn't really like that anyway).  I won't be disappointed that I don't have to dress for dinner.
     I want to teach my heart to see that love is his hand on my back in the kitchen, he hasn't forgotten me in the rush.  Love is Bryan stretching out, warming my side of the bed before I get in, thinking of me.  Love is folded towels, unexpectedly neat on the dryer.  Love is a child he quietly corrects when I want to throw up my hands and roll my eyes.  Love is playing my favorite game, for the thousandth time, pretending he's having fun.  Love is stopping by Starbucks when I haven't even hinted, or whined, or asked, or begged, or cajoled, or bargained.
     In Isaiah 41:20 God says eyes of faith need training to see Him acting in love as well,
That they may see and recognize,
And consider and gain insight as well,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it.

     If we think our heart sees what our eyes see, we're mistaken.  Our eyes can look long on the world and not recognize the hand of God.  Faith looks around and carefully considers how a good God is working and the heart gains insight.  
      Like Valentine's Day.  If I think a red rose is the only proof of love, I'm mistaken.  I can't recognize love laid out before me.  I'm looking today with an eye for love, love of a man and the love of my God.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pilgrim's Progress at Auction

     John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was first published in 1678.  Although he was largely uneducated he wrote over 60 books in his lifetime and preached to crowds, earning himself about 12 years in a dark and dank prison cell.  Bunyan was a simple man, but wholly captivated by the Word of God.  Even John Owen, an Oxford dean and very learned indeed, said to Charles II,  "May it please your Majesty, if I could possess the tinker's abilities to grip men's hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning."  Bunyan's books did grip people's hearts, so much so that Pilgrim's Progress went through eleven editions in Bunyan's own lifetime, and countless since.  People love to say it is second only to the Bible, though after searching online (for quite a while) I'm not sure how any sort of number could be finally calculated.  The first editions were cheaply printed and bound in brown sheep leather.  They were loved, not by the wealthy and the nobility, but by the common man.  They were read and reread and passed on to children as a treasure.  Those early editions of Pilgrim's Progress were worn and tattered and today there are only four known copies of editions published during Bunyan's lifetime.
     Only four known copies, you would think they would fetch quite a price at auction.  No doubt it's a figure entirely out of reach for someone like me, with an ultra-budget friendly version of the book on my own shelves.  I can't find a dollar figure, but I found an article by an antiquarian bookseller in the UK, who states one sold in 2004 for less than a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone).  The previous auction record for Potter was $10,750.  The Leaky Cauldron (a Harry Potter site) wrote in 2009 that a first edition was expected to sell for $15,000-18,000 and ehow says one sold for $40,000.  The recession doesn't hit some of us quite as hard as others, does it?  Those are my numbers, numbers as a small indicator that the world today doesn't love a tinker's simple tale quite as well as it loves...well, Harry Potter.  But, you already knew that, didn't you?
     An aside: the world's "most expensive book" as of December 7, 2010 is a first edition of John James Audubon's Bird's of America predicted to sell for 9.5 million dollars (found this here -scroll down).  While I do love Audubon's birds and animals, lifelike and in motion, I'd still choose Pilgrim's Progress first.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Geographica: Australasia and Oceania

     Geography quiz competitions are a favorite pastime around here.  Years ago it used to be that Bryan or I could easily beat Ally, using only the knowledge you accumulate after years of reading and living in this world.  Now Ally easily surpasses  us and knows all kinds of obscure details.  This weekend we had a long competition.  I was ahead of Ally by only two points when Bryan asked how many more quizzes we wanted to do.  "One," I said.  Meaning, just one more question, and a guaranteed win.  We did do one more, but it was one more quiz not one more question.  Ally surfaced as final champion.  It's good fun.  Here are two of our favorite sites for quizzes:
National Geographic Bee click on "Take the Quiz."  They post a new one every day.
Geography Bee Demystified This one is labeled "geography quizzes hard" on Ally's bookmark list.  And they are hard!
Now here's the quiz Ally has written for you this week:

1.  Shark Bay , the Kimberley Plateau, and Perth, the largest city on the western coast of Australia, are in what Australian state?

2. The Twelve Apostles are a group of small islands south of Melbourne, Australia.  Melbourne is separated by the Bass Strait from what island?

3.  Auckland and Wellington are major cities on what island belonging to New Zealand?  This island is also bordered by the Bay of Plenty and Hawke Bay.

4.  Norfolk Island, Lord Howe Island and the Coral Sea Islands belong to what country?

5.  The island of New Caledonia is just south of the Solomon Islands and is southeast of Papua New Guinea. New Caledonia belongs to what European country?

Bonus Fun:  New Zealand has lots of cool names such as:  Halfmoon Bay (a city), Fox Glacier (a city), Cape Farewell, and the Bay of Plenty.


1.  Western Australia
2.  Tasmania
3.  North Island
4.  Australia
5.  France

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Water of Contentment

For the not like the land of Egypt from which you came,
where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot
like a vegetable garden.
But the land which you are about to cross to possess it,
a land of hills and valleys,
drinks water from the rain of heaven,
a land for which the LORD your God cares;
the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it,
from the beginning even to the end of the year.
Deut. 11:10-12

     The great ancient civilizations of the world, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian and Chinese all grew up around rivers, rivers with alluvial plains.  The steady reliability of the yearly Nile Inundation affected all of Egyptian culture, their myths and Pharaohs, art and architecture.  The ancient 12 month calendar was structured around the three seasons of the Nile, the Inundation, the growing season and the dry or harvest season.  Year in and year out Nile farmers depended not only on the waters, but on the silt carried down river and laid out on their fields by the floods.  The waters and rich soils were carried over 4000 miles, winding through lands that today belong to nine countries.  Monsoon rains in the Ethiopian Highlands flooded Lake Tana, overflowing out into the Blue Nile.  The White Nile flowed out of Lake Victoria in Uganda, the largest African lake, down into the Sudd in Southern Sudan.  Here the waters slowed, meandering through swamps, lagoons and channels, flooded grasslands, past gazelles and birds and over the fins of fish.  Past modern day Khartoum series of hard rocks block the river creating rushing cataracts that kept ancient sailors from sailing up the Nile.  Every year from June to September Egypt was flooded, creating a narrow strip of well watered garden and Life grew and flourished around the gift.  Canaan, on the other hand, the land of hills and valleys, waited for the rains from heaven, the favor of God to give the gift of life.  At times God withheld His favor, as a means of calling their hearts back to Himself (I Kings 17:1; Jer. 3:2-3), calling them back to the Giver of Life.
"Now God thought this to be a better land for his people than Egypt, and this is given as one reason among others, that the Lord looked upon it as more suitable to the state of his people than Egypt, who were to live by faith, that they should be continually depending upon Heaven, upon himself, and not have a constant settled way in the creature for their outward dependence.  We find by experience that when those who are godly live in the greatest dependence upon God, and have not a settled income from the creature, they exercise faith more, and are in a better condition for their souls than before."  
     I live in Canaan.  We live far from family.  We move away from friends and make new ones, over and over again.  There is no thirty settled years with one company for this career man; the number of retirement accounts is growing.  We've moved when we thought we would stay, and stayed when we wanted to pack up and leave.  Once we moved on two weeks notice, another year we were moving but didn't know where and the job offer came when the keys were literally in our hands.  We've birthed babies wondering if it was the right time, and cradled new life at the "wrong" times.  We've wondered how to buy and sell houses, how to put food on the table, how to buy a new car, and how to trim the budget.  We have often been dependent on God, often in prayer, often exercising faith.  And in all this uncertainty I have said, over and over again, "I've prayed through it and I will be happy with either answer from the Lord, but I just need to know."  As if my spiritual victory is in the answer and not in the waiting, the dependence, itself.
"There is another reasoning that some have and it is this: 'Oh, I could bear much affliction in some other way, but this is very grievous to me, the unsettledness of my condition.  Even if my condition were low, yet if it were in a settled way, I could be content, but it is so unconstant, and so unsettled, that I never knew what to trust to, but am tossed up and down in the world in an unsettled condition, and this is hard to be content with."
      God is calling me to Canaan.  He knows the unsettled, unconstant, unreliable is suitable for my soul.  He calls me to contentment in the unknown.  To contentment in waiting.  To contentment in dependence.

And you will be like a well watered garden, 
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:11

*Quotes taken from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs, pgs. 199-200

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Waxes, Love That Never Wanes

     Some of you have snow.  Snow mounded along the roadside and piled high against the house.  We've been longing...sighing...checking the weather...waiting for snow.  We were an oasis of sun in the most recent storm that shut down Chicago and set records in Tulsa.  The weather forecast today called for "flurries."  It's been flurrying all day, accumulating only on the grass, melting and dripping in the middle of the day.  Still...snow.  Arden and I spent an hour outside, while the older kids worked, catching snowflakes, playing follow the leader and hiding from passing cars.  He's chanting, still, "Tut, tut it looks like snow."  As we wound our way around and around and around the yard, I noticed something.  Spring. 
Daffodil buds...

and hyacinth stars...

 lavender's gray and snowy white...


even hydrangea...soon!

     And a thought on Christ's love I gathered while under the quilt this afternoon at Rest Time and carried about with me today:

"So as I was coming home, these words came again into my thoughts; 
and I well remember, as they came in, I said thus in my heart, 
What shall I get by thinking on these two words? 
This thought had no sooner passed through my heart, 
but these words began thus to kindle in my spirit: 
"Thou art my love, thou art my love," 
twenty times together; and still
as they ran in my mind they waxed stronger and warmer, 
and began to make me look up; 
but being as yet between hope and fear, 
I still replied in my heart, 
But is it true? but is it true?"
John Bunyan, Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners, Ch. 5

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Together Days

     Sunday evenings my mom calls.  We talk and talk and when I've closed my cell phone and Bryan asks for the news I can usually sum it up in a minute.  These days we don't talk a lot about daily details, we talk about keeping sheep, unused art supplies, photo projects, and writing projects (okay, we dream a little too).  And we talk about homeschooling.  Now that my mom's finished raising and educating her own, she's a wealth of knowledge and encouragement.
     This week my mom's heart was aching for a friend, busy with six kids at home, longing for all the best for her family and absolutely miserable.  Her children wake in the morning, turn on the screens and spend all day in front of them doing school.  The children are unmotivated (of course some of mine are too - maybe it's somewhat universal!).  Mama will pause the program and ask what they've just learned and those kids can't always repeat the lesson.  They do math, science, language, literature all "on screen."  Even Bible, my mom adds, even Bible.
     Now I understand there are many, many reasons we feel we need to school this way.  I know all about feeling incapable of teaching my children the multitude of subjects they need to learn and learn well.  I have whole closets full of insecurity.  I know a lot about being busy and not knowing how to get everything done in a day, and I only have four children.  Sometimes, maybe, a husband just has a different vision for his family.  Certainly as we were schooled we took our turns at Co-ops, and watching video courses, and filling in poorly written workbooks.  Surely we could fill shelves with partially completed school books.
     So when my mom gently shared her advice, it wasn't to drop all the online and video courses, it was simply to take time to enjoy the children.  Enjoy being together.  It's a gift, isn't it?  My mom advised taking just a little time each day to sit on the couch and read aloud a really good book.  Together.
     I was only homeschooled a couple of years, the daughter from the first marriage with a hard, unruly heart.  But I have good memories of those years.  I remember "Bible Time," and the innumerable readings of Proverbs that we completed.  When we were asked to pick a favorite Proverb, how often did we try to choose one that couldn't possibly involve any personal reproach?  We memorized all of Philippians those mornings on the couch.  I wonder if my brothers, who are much younger, remember?  I remember afternoons, my mom pregnant and exhausted, resting on the couch.  The boys playing on the floor.  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  I read Tale of Two Cities aloud to them all, and wished it would never end. 
     In a sense that family circle doesn't end.  Every one has grown now, even that baby.  Now there are new babies, new boys and new girls.  The circle grows.  The cord that holds us wasn't twisted around the core in the times we spent alone, but by all we shared.  We laugh now, not about computers and videos (though they were around) but about live lizard shows, Little Davy Crockett in the driveway with the rabbit, not a few naughty episodes and one spoiled mama's boy.  He was that baby, so really everyone loved him, but he's grown now and laughs at himself, so there's always hope.
     We set aside our regular school schedule today.  We dug out the colored pencils, paper and some drawing books.  When we finally all sat down, when I was done growling over how long it took to find a Vivaldi playlist, we had a sweet time.  We drew green igloos, space ships, ground hog colonies and windmills.  When Bryan came home for lunch some of us couldn't stop, the picture wasn't done.  We didn't sit in silence.  We talked and laughed, we fought and shared and created something much nicer than art.  We twisted another strand around the cord.  Now that I'm the mom, I pray the cord is lengthened, strengthened and holds.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Play and Promises

     I decided to borrow the expertise of my husband, The Coach, for this post about soccer.  But not really about soccer, it's really about American children, and American parents who expend too much energy in questionable pursuits.  If you drive your seven year old five hours for weekend long soccer tournaments, I'm sure I'll offend you.  If your family spends thousands of dollars you don't really have (greetings to people who pay our salary) on A-level club teams, out of state tournaments and soccer camps, you may not like this post.  If you've paid far too much money to a twenty-something second rate British soccer player, who couldn't make the cut in his own country, to teach your child soccer skills, I'm sorry.  I am about to, very humbly, suggest that there is room for improvement in the American soccer system and it might not be in ways you think.
     The conversation was re-opened here at our house by a letter from a father, John Keating, a coach and former professional player, to his children, that was published in the Soccer Journal of the NSCAA.  I wanted to be able to link you to it, but it's not online.  We were struck by his promises to his children.  He promises they'll play more pick-up games in the back yard than games on the field.  He promises to keep all Sundays and holidays free (What?! Does he know about soccer here?!).  He promises to preview the coach.  He promises to skip some of their soccer games because the world doesn't revolve around one child.  He promises never to choose to pay for soccer over family needs.  He promises not to allow them to be "drafted" by other clubs or coaches, and in connection mentions the importance of modesty.
"I promise you will that you will play on a team where you will play most of the game.  Again, that may be the F team.  Soccer is meant to be played, not watched from the bench." (p. 62)
     I wish we knew him!  I could go on and on.  John Keating has a sound, down to earth, view of soccer,  and I suspect his ideas extend to other sports as well.  So if your daughter plays softball, this post is for you too and you're not off the hook.   Neither are we.  We read it aloud to our children in the full, humble realization that we don't keep the kind of ideals Keating has written out.
     Now, what does this have to do with American youth soccer at large?  America has never won a World Cup.  America can't even produce very many players who can compete on the world stage.  Truthfully, there is no consensus on this issue.  No one knows the final answer. 
     One idea The Coach sees over and over again is that American children don't have enough time for free play, their time and practices are over-structured.  Brazil and Argentina, the soccer power-houses, create amazing numbers of extremely talented players.  In the early years, maybe ten and under, they have no organized teams.  The kids are outside, playing; and when they're playing, they're playing soccer.  They're learning creativity and problem solving without an adult coach.  (Short break for a soccer lecture after which The Coach volunteers to bring home more articles so that I could write multiple posts on the subject.)
     Two hundred billion kids won't ever play in a World Cup.  Free play for those children means, not that they'll be better soccer players, but they'll enjoy the Beautiful Game a little bit more.  A sunny afternoon in the backyard with a ball might be more profitable to them than running from school to two separate sport practices, then eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in the car on the way home.  A season on the F team or even (gasp) Rec Soccer, might be a lot more fun.  Your kids, and my kids, won't play in the World Cup, or the World Series or the Super Bowl; most kids don't.  In fact, most athletes are not even awarded substantial athletic scholarships; don't make soccer your college savings plan.  Before we structure our entire lifestyle around an unlikely future, we should step back and make a few promises to help us remember the truly important things in life.