Thursday, June 30, 2011

Strawberry Sachets

Ally and I have been working on our strawberry shaped, lavender sachets. We estimate that with the pound of lavender purchased on Etsy we should be able to make fifty sachets. Then we'll send them off to mothers and grandmothers, sisters and friends. Just for fun, a sweet surprise. We have been hand stitching all of them, working a little here and a little there, 15 minutes at a time. Ally brought them along in the car. We carried our work box over to the couch the weekend Bryan was gone for sachet-stitching, Pride and Prejudice watching, girl time. They are a perfect quick and easy project. We're having wonderful fun. Naturally, the other kids are never far off and one afternoon they settled next to us at the table and spread out their own activities.

The pattern for the strawberry sachets is from Country Living. We ended up enlarging the stars, 125%, and combining them with smaller stars on our berries. Soon I'll show you a basket of our finished work.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rushing After Jesus Christ

"All thy strange, passionate, sudden rushings forward after Jesus Christ, coming sinners know what I mean, they also are thy helps from God. Perhaps thou feelest at some times more than at others, strong stirrings up of heart to fly to Jesus Christ; now thou hast at this time a sweet and stiff gale of the Spirit of God, filling thy sails with the fresh gales of his good Spirit; and thou ridest at those times as upon the wings of the wind, being carried out beyond thyself, beyond the most of thy prayers, and also above all thy fear and temptations."

John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ

Do you ever feel that? Something strange and awkward comes over your heart, a longing so strong it hurts? Half afraid the feeling will end and you'll be mired in normality and half afraid of coming face to face with a Living God? Even this is His grace at work, carrying me up, beyond myself, to Himself. The fear, love, longing, and thanksgiving are all gifts of His grace.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Critter Croquet

These have been lazy summer days, aside from swimming and mowing, but we have been busy with our hands. Kara listed oven bake clay as a high priority on her birthday list. Yesterday she pulled out Create Anything With Clay and made a "Critter Croquet" set. Today the raccoon sets about a lively game of croquet, a family favorite here.

Arden, busy as ever with Legos, brought his ship downstairs this morning. I bought myself a few minutes to check email by letting him sit next to me and take pictures of his men "in action." And even now, as I type, I am heavily guarded.

Many thanks to Ally for photographing the critter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tucked In

We read about David the Outlaw.
What's an outlaw?

I grant special permission to fly the Lego ship in bed.
Can I have the lamp on?

I ask which pillow he would like me to slip inside the case.
Which one is better?

One hour later I step in to kiss his brother, high in the top bunk.
The little one is asleep.
Curled inside his pillowcase,
a sleeping bag.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:8

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bible Bee Update

Our Bible Bee materials have arrived. Two excited children opened the box as soon as it was delivered. Papers, cards, pins and manuals rose in a stack on the floor. They each spent several days setting up their notebooks and punching holes in the corners of the verse cards, in a futile attempt to keep them in one place. Still the floating verse cards are as ubiquitous as Legos. Then they began memorizing.

One child does only the minimum requirement. We let all three children choose whether or not they wanted to participate in the Bible this year with the clear understanding that they would commit to spend at least 15 minutes each day memorizing. That's not enough time to win anything, but hopefully enough time to keep from embarrassing yourself on competition day. Once they've made their choice, we remind them of the expectation (I would say "enforce" it, but we're not standing over anybody's shoulder and punishing infractions). It becomes a matter of keeping one's word, with the added benefit of keeping God's Word ever before you.

Two children are passionately memorizing verses. They walk around with their ring of verses, muttering words of life. These two work together and they compete with each other always pushing the other to work a little harder. We stand back, watch, listen to verses, and encourage. They're having fun. One read "but a brother is born for adversity" as "but a brother is born as an adversary," and laughed aloud. The other came in today talking about flies in a perfumer's oil, but with that pseudo-Boston accent, we thought she was talking about Oreos. It took more than a minute to figure out the Oreo's role in the perfumer's process, let alone that this was the Bible we were talking about.

This is the Bible we are talking about. Last year before the Bee another mother asked how we made our children learn their verses.We don't make them, we couldn't make these words travel from the head to the heart. This isn't of our making, it is of God and we love to see Him working.

Monday, June 20, 2011

He Needs Me

He runs around like a wild man. That's what I tell the inquirer when they ask what Arden does during our homeschool days. I'm joking when I say it. He's not literally out of control and wreaking havoc. He simply has almost totally unstructured days.

He runs around like a wild man. Really, this week he's been wild. He's arguing with every sibling. I hear his voice above all others and he can't control his temper. He throws his toys in anger. He won't take no for an answer.

He runs around like a wild man. This means he needs me, I was busy last week and he needs more attention, more time, more conversation, more discipline. He needs to read frog books on the couch. He needs a game of Qwirkle at the table. He needs a crowd in the amphitheater for a gladiatorial contest cape flying as he battles the invisible foe. He needs his hand held in Walmart. He needs an extra dinner chore. And he needs me watching to see that he does it.

He runs around like a wild man. He will never say it aloud, but in letters large he writes it on his heart. He needs a little extra love today. He needs me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Like a Poplar

Today in my Bible reading I arrived at one of my favorite passages. Verses that have been favorites not for a week, or month of sitting above the sink on an index card, but years of flipping back, reading and rereading them.

"Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb,
who will help you, 'do not fear, O Jacob My servant; 
and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. 
For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; 
I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants; 
and they will spring up among the grass 
like poplars by streams of water.' 
 "This one will say, 'I am the Lord's'; 
and that one will call on the name of Jacob; 
and another will write on his hand, 'belonging to the Lord,' 
and will name Israel's name with honor."
Isaiah 44:2-5

The Lord has formed and made me, He has chosen me, He has called me not to fear. He is my help. He offers blessing to my descendants for a thousand generations. He gives His Spirit without measure making me flourish like a poplar beside streams of living water. I am the Lord's and He is mine. I write on my hands "Belonging to the Lord," as He first inscribed my name upon His hands. 

Belonging to the Lord.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Winding Sheet Legacy

Mrs. Elizabeth Jocelin of Cheshire, England began a book of advice for the child in her womb. The book was found unfinished at her desk, titled The Mother's Legacie to her Unborn Infant, and published in 1624. In "The Approbation" of her book she was applauded as a "truly rich bequether taking care for providing an everlasting portion."

After six years of happy marriage, to the man she affectionately called her "good sweet heart," Elizabeth realized she was carrying the couple's first child.
"Accordingly when she first felt herself quick with child (as then traveling with death itself) she secretly took order for the buying a new winding sheet: thus preparing and consecrating herself to him, who rested in a new Sepulcher wherein was never man yet laid. And about that time undauntedly looking death in the face, privately in her Closet between God and her, she wrote these pious Meditations..."   - The Approbation
Elizabeth traveled with death, a normal course of pregnancy in the 17th century, until on October 12, 1622 she was made a mother. She saw her daughter baptized and gave thanks to God for her, then called for her winding sheet to be brought forth and laid upon her. After nine fevered days Elizabeth died, was wrapped in her winding sheet, buried in the dark earth.

These are her words, written by a young mother, a mother keeping a winding sheet in her room. A mother anticipating a lifetime with the little one stirring inside her, and yet with eyes focused on eternity giving godly advice to her child.
Having long, often and earnestly desired of God, that I might be a mother to one of his children, and the time now drawing on, which I hope he hath appointed to give thee unto me: It drew me into a consideration both wherefore I so earnestly desired thee, and (having found that the true cause was to make thee happy) how I might compasse this happiness for thee.
I knew it consisted not in honor, wealth, strength of body or friends (though all these are great blessings) therefore it had been a weak request to desire thee only for an heir to my fortune. No, I never aimed at so poor an inheritance for thee, as the whole world: Neither would I have begged of God so much pain as I know I must endure, to have only possessed thee with earthly riches, of which today thou may be a great man, tomorrow a poor beggar. Nor did an hope to dandle thy infancy move me to desire thee. For I know all the delight a Parent can take in a child is honey mingled with gall.
But the true reason that I have so often kneeled to God for thee, is, that thou mightiest be an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

You can read the entirety of Elizabeth Jocelin's Book for yourself over here. I took the liberty of modernizing the spelling in the section I have quoted.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Creating a Year End Portfolio

section dividers - handwritten on copy paper

masking tape - the adhesive of choice

Could anything add to her sense of importance more than an envelope labeled "official business?"

Yesterday I put together Kara's year end portfolio. When we lived in Pennsylvania we were required by the school district to turn in a portfolio of our students' work. Every June I sorted through our papers and filled a two inch binder with samples from every subject. I always resented the requirement but I came to recognize that seeing the best of the year's work in one place was very satisfying.

Now we are no longer required to turn in our portfolios, but I continue making them for our benefit. The portfolios have changed. In Pennsylvania I included representative samples of math lessons and spelling pages, but long term those aren't the pages we love to look back on, so I leave those out, saving the highlights, pages that show hard work and her personality.

Kara's portfolio this year includes a title page listing the year's accomplishments. On this page I list her completion of Saxon 3, which is all I need to remember about those math worksheets. I list the sports she played, the trip to Mount Magazine, the Odd Jobs Business she started, and more. Then I have pages listing the books she read, although I did fall behind in the spring and need to figure out how to keep that from happening next year. Then I have sections full of Kara's own work; copywork, history coloring pages, book reports in over-crowded block print, and every edition of the family newspaper she wrote this year. The best section, by far, is the science section. Kara, the budding scientist, has an impressive collection of projects, each one completed on her own initiative, in her free time. So, you'll see, they're not exactly neat, nor edited, but she's pursuing her passion and I'm not going to squelch that excitement. I thought about not posting the pictures, because I cringe at all those misspelled words, but I think that's just a silly pride on my part, and I will squelch that. This spring Kara began writing to her Congressman and Senator and to NASA, lobbying for manned space flights and the letters she received in return are treasured. An 8 by 10 glossy of our Senator hanging above her bed is a little too much for me, but I breathe deep, kiss her and pour on the encouragement.

Today we need to add a few pages of photos to the portfolio. I'm resisting the temptation to decorate them myself. I saw Kara's eyes light up when I told her she could make the pages all by herself, adding writing and stickers or keep it simple. She is excited, and pleased, with her year of learning, gathered, displayed, and appreciated.

I can teach and require that all the basics are practiced every day, but I can't create enthusiasm. If, after twelve years, I have a child passionate about learning, I'll consider that a success. This year there was no shortage of enthusiasm.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

15 Minutes

Setting a timer for 15 minutes of speed cleaning with the kids is a well known tactic in our home, and it takes the edge off. If I have my daughter sit down for 10-15 minutes of copywork daily during the school year by June the pages of pencil lined paper look impressive. Just a little at a time, with consistency, yields results.

I have been planning my summer goals, tasks I want to accomplish during these long, quiet, school-free summer days. The irony is that I haven't had a long, quiet day, with four hours to work on a project yet. 15 minutes to the rescue.

I have big projects, work to spend entire days completing, but many things can be broken down into bits and pieces. Here are my 15 minute, as many days a week as I can manage, summer goals:

1. Organize the closets one shelf or box at a time. I don't think it is unreasonable to glance at every thing we own at least once a year, organize it, cull it, remember where it is.

2. Read some of my kids' school books for next year. I love to know what they are reading, to form my own opinion of the quality of the book, then to be able to discuss it with them when they read the book in the fall. Thankfully, some of it is easy reading and goes quickly. I'll have to pick and choose because I have too many students, all of them readers and my ninth grader (yikes!) is reading "adult" books. Page by page I am getting through The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster; you see, I started with something simple.

3. Start a quilt. A simple one; I'm not a real quilter. One day for cutting, one for stitching, one for ironing. I won't finish by the end of the summer with those short time increments, but I will have a lot of fabric pieced together, and might be close enough to finish it off with a marathon day in August. I'm itching to be creating something.

4. Crafts. I'm limiting my self to two, because I get carried away, then overwhelmed and end up resenting my true priorities. Two types. I want to stitch some little zipper pouches for cash savings and make-up bags. And I want to make some strawberry shaped, lavender sachets; my girls by my side.

5. Weed the garden. Early in the morning before the heat becomes unbearable, I'll be out there, coffee beside me, spade in hand.

6. Work on memorizing Colossians. I took up the goal from Ann at Holy Experience, two verses a week sounded so very doable. I didn't consider that it would be two verses a week plus the verses we memorized as a family, making the task slightly more challenging. I was somewhere in Chapter 1 when I gave up the cards with my hand copied verses. But I have not given up Colossians. I have been reading it whole, all in one sitting, often out loud to myself. My 15 minute summer goal is to read it through every day. I won't have the book memorized by August, but when I take up my hand written cards again I expect those words of Paul's will be familiar and easily hidden in my heart.

I am trusting for wonderful results from a little time multiplied by consistency.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Homeschooling: A Better Ride

If an article on homeschooling hits the Fox Business website, and from our perspective, presents it in a fair and balanced manner, then you know homeschooling is hitting the mainstream. We love to see homeschooling spreading, not because we hope to be in a majority, but because we know firsthand all the benefits this lifestyle offers to families. Dr. Brian Ray says, at the end of the article, "“I think for the parent’s perspective, research shows us it’s a better ride, but it’s not an easy's work but it's a different kind of work."

I wonder if the homeschooling movement looses its vitality in the mainstream. Bryan and I are reading the Moore's Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, published in 1994. We are both working through a section full of letters from families that found homeschooling a better way for their children, documenting their experiences in the 1980's, and our conversation is full of the details of their letters. These are families that fought tremendous battles against school districts, family, and courts for the privilege to teach their children at home, battles most of us today will not fight. They valued their children enough to fight for them, and to find a new way to "do school." Then they reaped the benefits of having raised thoughtful, mature, kind, self-motivated, well-educated children. When we plug our kids into the computer for six hours of online courses offered by the state or another "expert" educator, then drive over to the school for band or sports practice, are we really doing the same work that homeschoolers were 30 years ago? Of course we're not. Then the follow up question needs to be, have we improved upon their methods or are we only looking for easier ways to do this harder work?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Rain of Heaven

I have entered the Lord's land, my heart is a well watered vineyard.

Although in former days I watered my fields with my foot, pumping time and again, pumping the water of life onto the ground to bring fruit, God has called me away from my labors. He has given me a promised land. A land which drinks the waters from heaven, sent by the Lord's own hand.

Now it is not my labor, but the Lord's work that brings fruit. He sends the rain and the sun in season to reap a fruitful heart at the harvest. His eyes are always on me, from the beginning even to the end of the year.

Hold fast, He tells me. Listen obediently; let me never listen any other way. All my heart is His, all my soul is His, for love and for service. Hold fast, cling, never let go.

My heart is His garden, His work, His fruit.

From Deuteronomy 11

Friday, June 10, 2011

Homemaker's Gratitude Challenge

On Monday when I read the chapter on laundry, I felt oh-so-pleased. Yes, one chore we already have mastered. We have a system, a routine. Sam starts a load every morning, I hang it on the line, dry it in the dryer, fold the clothes and we all put them away. We stay right on top of those dirty clothes; I'm rarely overwhelmed, coming up for air from behind a pile of dirty tees.

Monday I was pleased, but now I have to tell you, it turns ugly.

Monday I paged ahead and discovered gratefulness in the Mary Challenges at the end of the week. No problem, I thought. I have for years now used some of the time I'm folding clothes to thank God for the clothes, or the wearers, or the people who gave them to our family. Monday I had my blog post half written.

Today ungratefulness reared its ugly head. My brother left this morning and this evening we were expecting another house guest - one who might stay awhile, one who might need the space in the guestroom closet. Our day was full of useful labor. Somewhere in the midst of all that labor, I started feeling sorry for myself. I started worrying about the leaky pipe that may cost thousands to repair. I despised the worn towels I was folding, scorned the frayed tennis shoe lace, hated the old faucet. We've prayed long about opportunities for hospitality, and God is answering, but this does feel like inconvenient timing. Couldn't He have timed it better?

Are you like me? The more time I spent dwelling on how much I'd like to change my circumstances, how unhappy I was, how discontent, the longer my list of gripes grew. My list grew rather lengthy. I thought of Colossians 2:6-7,

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in Him,
having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him,
and established in your faith, just as you were instructed,
and overflowing with gratitude.

God wants to see my heart overflowing with gratitude. Gratitude spilling over the top, running down the sides, spilling below in a pool, and still there's more.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Turtles and Tadpoles

Mr. Turtle was found by the road this morning. Sam brought him back to the so-called flower bed by the patio, as you see it is not exactly the Garden of Eden. After I had put banana bread in the oven two excited children took me out to meet the turtle. We watched him crawl among the plants and climb rocks, then tried to feed him, but his mind was on escape and he would not be deterred. When we were done enjoying him, we set him in the grass and let him crawl away, giving strict instructions to Sam, who would be mowing, to watch out for the turtle.

We are also entertaining a pair of tadpoles - in a large plastic water bottle and thus the distortion in the photo above. We'll watch them grow then set them free. I had my brother, who is visiting for a few days, research what they like to eat. He reported fish food is best but greens also work, and having some handy lettuce on the compost plate, we made them a quick meal of it, and they seemed appreciative. Arden is not quite sure how these things with tails will become frogs, so there is plenty of learning ready to unfold before our eyes. Tomorrow we will be off to the library to check out Starting Life: Frog (Starting Life) by Claire Llewellyn. We have checked it out before, and it did seem to be a very nice book, but did not have the immediacy that it will now.

A little exploring in our yard, a little fun with a few little friends, that's what our little people were busy about today.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Something Lovely: Summer Flowers

Through trial and error, error, error, I have found a few reliable plants that will bloom in my garden beds. It's such joy to spend ten minutes cutting summer's beauty and bringing life into our home. God's work is all the best there is in the world, it is good, and there is nothing lovelier than what His hands have made. Including you and me, fashioned by His hand, cared for by His love, beautiful in His sight.

Observe how the lillies of the field grow;
they do not toil, nor do they spin,
yet I say to you that not even Solomon 
in all his glory clothed himself like 
one of these.

Matthew 6:28-29

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Discover Wonder


Itty bitty tadpoles

Arden is a boy in motion. There's always a battle to fight, a bike to ride, a mother to pester. Then we take him out to the creek and he is a boy transformed. He spent two hours building a dam. He gathered mud and water plants to plug the holes. Then he moved downstream and started all over again. Two hours of silent, intent work.

I spent my time pondering, and prowling, calling the kids to see my discoveries. There was a water snake. There were tadpoles still in the eggs. There was the Luna moth I thought was dead until an ant tried to carry it away. There were seven or eight kinds of butterflies.

Go outside. Find a little wildness. Breathe deep. Let your kids loose, let them explore, and build, and play. Leave the cell phone in the car, be present in the moment.

Discover wonder. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Happy Day

Birthdays here are simple affairs. Once every few years we plan a party, but most of the time we are the party, with grandparents or aunts and uncles added to the mix for a little extra fun.

Last week we celebrated one of our favorite little people and gave thanks to God for her. She planned the day to the hour and somehow convinced everyone to follow her schedule. She is somewhat persuasive. The evening before she slotted my wake up call for 6:50, to start the pancakes. Though I protested that I wake up at seven, I'm sure I was up before then.

And so we careened through the day, from syrupy fingers to presents for the curious scientist. We rattled along in the van and tubed the quiet creek. We played games and went for a bike ride and ate food. We finished the day with ice cream cake. Homemade mint ice cream, made out of consideration for the one who is allergic to peanuts, with chocolate. And candles. Eight candles. Eight years for the girl who is happy every day, but happiest of all on birthdays.

This is her brother's humorous display

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Blueberries the Old Fashioned Way

We're out under the glaring Arkansas sun, hot and ready to be home for lunch. My middle two, faces flushed, murmur, wonder why they have to pick berries. "It's good for you," I answer bent over the bush, pulling clutches of ripe berries into my bucket. "It's good for you to know that food requires labor. Feeding people is hard work." They consult for a minute and decide it would be far better to do paper work in an air conditioned office.

Throughout history most people have worked hard for survival. Most people haven't had the choice of the office and the plastic pint of blueberries at Walmart. We have much for which to be thankful. It's a little lesson. A lesson with a sweet reward at our finger tips.