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Friday, December 11, 2009
"I had been reading one of the driest passages imaginable from the Scriptures where Israel came out of Egypt and God arranged them into a diamond-shaped camp. He put Levi in the middle and Reuben out in front and Benjamin behind. It was a diamond-shaped moving city with a flame of fire in the middle giving light. Suddenly it broke over me:
God is a geometrician, He’s an artist! When He laid out that city He laid it out skillfully, diamond-shaped with a plume in the middle, and it suddenly swept over me like a wave of the sea: how beautiful God is and how artistic and how poetic and how musical, and I worshiped God there under that tree all by myself. " A.W. Tozer
I was never very good at geometry myself, yet the past several years I've been intrigued with the grand thought that God is certainly a geometrician. Tozer sites one evidence in his quote above, and it is a delight to keep a running list of other places His geometrical masterpieces are found.
Put snowflakes on the list. After our recent blizzard, it is only natural that we should be thinking on these little prismatic wonders! Each flake is a perfect hexagon, decorated with ridges, dendrites, and endless combinations of symmetrical artistry. Enjoy reading about them in the Guide to Snowflakes and take time to ooh and aah over the gorgeous photo gallery of snow crystals here.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
- My parents spent the night with us rather than to risk driving in bad weather. This gave us a rare opportunity to spend some relaxed and fun time together.
- We played games: Sequence (my favorite), Mexican Dominoes, and Wii
- A late evening pancake dinner
- *Real* hot cocoa
- Baked Christmas cookies
- Decorated a gingerbread house
- Watched "Christmas Carol" late at night
- Listened to Christmas music
- Puttered in the basement
- Wrote letters
- Read by the fire
- Read with the family: Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon
At this moment, I would not trade this winter interlude for the grandest beach side home!
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
"A buccaneer scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzled, yoked, or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to wander and find its own voice and place in the world."
This is a deliciously dangerous book: delicious because it taps into the refreshing fountain of intellectual freedom and dangerous because it dares me to cut the moorings of the traditional educational system and launch out into uncharted waters.
Have you ever felt flawed because you could not corral your attention to a linear course of study? After reading this book, you will begin to see your mental wanderings in a new light. Capitalizing on the premise that "knowledge attracts knowledge," Bach pronounces those random and seemingly irrelevant nougats of learning desirable, enjoyable, and useful. Do you have 13 half-finished books on your nightstand? Do you read parts of them and then meander off on bunny trails somewhere else? No worries--give yourself permission to wander because somewhere along the way those disparate threads of knowledge will converge and connect.
Bach excels at analyzing the rhythm of his own unorthodox learning patterns, and in so doing he gives his readers the tools for wiggling free from constraining straight jackets of thought, such as: you must go to school to learn, it is imperative to get good grades, you must not daydream, you must be able to learn from a textbook, you must be able to pass standardized tests, blah blah ad nauseum.
No one can accuse Bach of inexperience as a buccaneer-scholar. From his youth he despised school and could not be cajoled into doing the "drudge work served with sanctimony." As an example, he loved physics--played with slide rules (remember those?) and calculated rocket trajectories for fun. Yet he earned only a 49% in the class. Why the "failure"? In his own words:
"The problem was the labs. (snip) A 'lab' was a set of instructions in a book and blanks to fill in. These were turned in to the teacher, so that he could check that the blanks were filled with the expected numbers. (snip) These labs were represented to us as "experiments," but there was no inquiry in them. They were just ritual for getting a grade. In practice, a few student performed the ritual to obtain the magic numbers; the rest copied the numbers into their own workbooks.
For me, the labs turned physics into a sham. I was told I would not pass the class unless I turned in my completed workbook. Instead, I turned in nothing. My workbook remained empty the whole year. I failed physics, but to this day I feel good that I took a stand for ethics in education."
At the tender age of 14, James moved out of his home and into a motel (!) He was not a runaway and his parents were not rejecting or neglecting him. They gave him a monthly allowance and kept in touch. His experience on his own reminds me of Ben Franklin's early years:
"I no longer felt angry all the time. I learned how to manage money. I discovered I could live for weeks eating only pancakes. Then for weeks more, I lived on spaghetti. One month I ran out of cash and couldn't afford food for three days. I ate white sugar to stave off the hunger (it just made me sick). I would not repeat that mistake."
I have to admit, his parents were gutsy. His father, the author of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, provided a lifeline of support and maintained a strong long-distance influence via the telephone. It was he who finally encouraged James to "quit school and take care of your own education."
That he did. James holds no formal degrees, yet he is an expert in the field of computer software testing. His list of accomplishments -- from Apple Computers to Silicon Valley and many places in between--is truly remarkable.
I loved this guy's honesty, integrity, and gutsy passion for learning. I was a typical "good girl" on my journey through schooling, but have entered into the world of intellectual freedom and learning outside of the box as an adult. Much of this has been learned as I've had the opportunity to shepherd my four children through 13 years of homeschooling (and still at least 7 years more to go!) As he shared his life as an autodidact, I could relate so some of the ways that he has learned and I certainly share his enthusiasm for the subject.
Our early years of homeschooling provided structure and a certain level of discipline and routine. But I'm sensing a shift in my approach as the wind changes during the teen years. I covet "real" learning opportunities for my children and have noted that when those opportunities present themselves the fruit far exceeds any contrived lessons I might assign for them. A partial list of their experience would include:
- Planning a retreat for other teens
- Serving as a photographer at a wedding
- Teaching guitar lessons
- Choosing their own books for homeschool
- Recording an original CD of instrumental music
- Watching every single episode of Star Trek and picking apart the philosophy
- Traveling to Israel
- Decorating their own bedrooms
When I take my hands off and risk losing control, I gain influence. I become a valued coach who can enjoy the journey with them. I think one of the most common weaknesses of homeschool Moms is the desire to control. Let's face it, we enjoy charting their course! It's been great
choosing books and planning field trips. But at a certain point we must take the risk and relinquish that control.
It is amazing what young people are capable of doing. My 10 year old daughter recently painted her own bedroom--walls and woodwork--without a speck of help from me. She did a perfect job.
Guess what? I NEVER would have released my older kids to do that when they were ten! This is just an example of how I've changed and relaxed my grip. Maybe I could call myself at this juncture a buccaneer-unschooler? I like the ring of that!
James Marcus Bach has a website, including a learning video here.
Friday, November 20, 2009
We have a movie night at our house about twice a month, a la Netflix. I am the official family movie selector and have picked my share of duds. I'll spare you the details on those ☹ but will gladly share two recent stand-out movies that I can unreservedly recommend for family viewing.
Good Night Mister Tom is a Masterpiece Theatre movie (1999) made for television. It is a war story filled with heartache, tenderness, and unexpected love. The crusty Mr. Oakley does not wish to care for a London waif, but capitulates to the duty of sheltering a boy named William in his country home during the bombing sieges of WWII. He uncovers the fact that the boy has been badly abused, and seeks to provide him with the simple elements of a healthy life. The old man's ability to love has grown rusty, but is fully revived when he perceives the boy's deep emotional hunger. The young man is able to express himself as an artist, while Mr. Oakley dusts off the organ and rediscovers his musical gifts. Oh yes, and there is a beloved dog in the story--the cherry on the sundae. ★★★★★
Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story is a medical drama, a biography of the famous neurosurgeon who is best known for separating Siamese twins. Our family had recently finished the book by the same title and we were delighted to follow up by watching this new (2009) movie featuring the Oscar winning Cuba Gooding Jr. as Dr. Carson. This is an inspiring rags-to-riches story and the movie managed to capture the heart of the autobiography. Ben Carson grew up in a lower class neighborhood in Detroit, the son of a hard-working, nearly illiterate young mother. He never knew his Mom was illiterate because she preached reading, reading, reading to her two sons. Somehow she grasped the fact that television was keeping them dumb, so she laid down the law and limited her boys to 2 hours per week. In addition, she assigned them to read two books per week--books of their choice obtained from the public library.
Their transformation was amazing. Ben rose from being the lowest in his class to the highest. The intellectual discipline he achieved enable him to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a neurosurgeon. He is arguably the greatest surgeon of our time and serves as chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Ben Carson is a fantastic role model for young people, a real life hero that makes pop culture icons pale in comparison. ★★★★★
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Is Annie Dillard a philosopher? A poet? A naturalist? Or a storyteller?
It's difficult to determine by the reading of her most recently penned novel, The Maytrees. Of those four distinctions, Annie's storytelling seems to be the weakest, apparently used only as a vehicle by which she might display her other gifts.
The novel is billed as a love story, the romantic history of Lou and Toby Maytree. Dialogue is spare, almost non-existent. In its place we are invited to share the inner ruminatings of the poet Toby and the quiet Lou as they seek their entire adult lives to make sense of love, the shortness of life, and the big questions: How do we make our brief moments count? What is it we are meant to do? Does love come as a gift, or is it an act of will?
I could follow some of the philosophical threads in the story but kept feeling that I was not grasping enough to make sense of it. Is beauty enough? What happens to our cache of knowledge and experience when we die? I felt unsatisfied when the main characters did not come to any final conclusions. The threads of thought seemed never to be woven together, but were left to dangle so that at the end I was left with a big question mark.
The story line was not compelling, the characters were not fully developed, the philosophy was tangled and enigmatic. So what kept me reading this story?
I suppose in the end it was the love of words that kept me reading, because while Annie lacks as a storyteller, she more than compensates as a wordsmith. Her descriptions of the Cape Cod beach, the flora, the fauna, the night sky, the dunes--paint a multi-layered work of beauty, stroke-by-stroke. She has an unusual way of turning words, rather poetical, which for me required slow reading and focused attention.
I'm including some of the quotes that stood out to me.
Will I read more of Annie Dillard? I might read her almost classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek because I know that to be her thoughts on nature, where she truly excels as a writer. But another novel? No.
Of Lou, the quiet woman:
"After their first year or so, Lou's beauty no longer surprised him. He never stopped looking, because her face was his eyes' home."
"Her mental energy and endurance matched his. She neither competed nor rebelled. Her freedom strengthened him, as did her immeasurable reserve."
Of Maytree, the poet:
"He endorsed Edwin Arlington Robinson's view that anthologies preserve poems by pickling their corpses."
"What gave adults the cheer to tolerate their hypocrisy? Even his mother praised generosity and hoarded; she preached industry and barely worked. Perhaps every generation passes to the next, to hand down to yet more children, an untouched trunk of virtues. The adults describe the trunk's contents to the young and never open it."
"In her last years Lou puzzled over beauty....She never knew what to make of it. Certainly nothing in Darwin, in chemical evolution, in optics or psychology or even cognitive anthropology gave it a shot. (snip) Philosophy ...had trivialized itself right out of the ballpark. Nothing rose to plug the gap, to address what some called 'ultimate concerns' unless you count the arts, the arts that lacked both epistemological methods and accountability..." -------->
This last quote makes me so thankful for the gift of faith. My faith "plugs the gap" and although some would call it simplistic, I'm grateful that it keeps me from the tortured mental gymnastics that must weary great minds devoid of faith. Keep me simple.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Being the daughter of a full-blooded Dane, my DNA is programmed to appreciate coffee. Yet there is an undeniable mystique about tea that made me feel as though I was missing out on one of life's great comforts, and so I have tried green tea, black tea, white tea, and a wide array of herbal teas. Never once did I desire a second cup.
Until PG Tips.
Our military friends, who had been stationed in England, introduced me to this distinctly English tea a couple of years ago and now I keep it in my own cupboard. Somehow, it fits the bill on a rainy afternoon or a chilly fall evening. It will never replace coffee but it has a mystique and an appeal all its own.
As a newly initiated tea-drinker, I loved this passage from my current read, The Elegance of the Hedgehog:
"I pour the tea and we sip in silence. We have never had our tea together in the morning, and this break with our usual protocol imbues the ritual with a strange flavor.
Yes, this sudden transmutation in the order of things seems to enhance our pleasure, as if consecrating the unchanging nature of a ritual established over our afternoons together, a ritual that has ripened into a solid and meaningful reality. Today, because it has been transgressed, our ritual suddenly acquires all its power; we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar; ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savor it, lower our cups, serve more, and sip again; every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth. At moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasure will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles. Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn-- and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.
So, let us drink a cup of tea."
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
In his fictional history of Chesapeake Bay, James Michener takes you to the top of a large building and lets you watch the pageant of centuries pass like a parade beneath your gaze. Though you can see the details of individuals as they pass, your perspective predisposes you to see the broad sweep of centuries. It is an amazing amalgam of crooks and colonels, priests and pirates, fishermen and floozies, merchants and mechanics with the natural history of Chesapeake Bay providing the backdrop for it all.
I am amazed by the extensive research and detail contained in this epic work (1,083 pages!), yet never do the facts present themselves overtly. Always, they are packaged as part of the intricate web of life woven within the history of three founding families. Their diverse backgrounds and idiosyncracies are destined to intertwine as the generations unfold and the telling is a treat for all armchair adventurers. I closed the book with a profound sense of awe; Michener brought forth a vivid sense of understanding that individuals are both the product of those who have preceded them and the predictor of what lies ahead.
Each person occupies only a small and fleeting role in history, but one life can color the entire sweep of a generation. What if the first English settler had taken the lovely Indian princess as bride, instead of waiting for his proper English wife to arrive by boat some years later? How would the Quaker family line have been affected if the patriarch had capitulated to the pressure to build boats for the purpose of slave trading?
Momentous decisions face every generation, but seldom are the players cognizant of the truth that their decisions are not trivial---they deeply affect posterity. I'm encouraged by my glimpse into the Chesapeake saga because it is ultimately an affirmation that life matters; and by extension--yes MY life matters, too.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
View all my reviews >>
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Some random thoughts on the Nebraska State Fair:
- Nebraska's fair features a cheese sculpture, whereas the Iowa fair is known for its butter sculptures. This year there was quite a controversy in Iowa over the butter sculpture, because the plan called for a buttery likeness of Michael Jackson. No sirree, the Iowegians were not happy about this idea and the outcry was so great that the decision was given to the public via an online vote. Sorry Michael, with a margin of 65.24% “no” to 34.76% “yes,” fair goers have voted you out.
- Speaking of bovines, my daughter got to "milk" a cow today. She was made of fiberglass, had rubber teats, and was very patient.
- The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show was a hoot! Axe throwing, competitive sawing, chopping, sculpting, and water log rolling comprised a unique and entertaining show.
- Oh my, the quilts were masterpieces. This was hands down the best of the exhibitions, in my opinion. It has primed me to make another trip to Lincoln to visit the International Quilt Study Center and Museum. Quilts are rightly considered serious works of art here.
- My second favorite: the handcrafted furniture in the 4H building. 4H is popular in Nebraska and there is a whole exhibit hall devoted to student contributions, everything from photography to floral arranging to robotics.
- We "met" a real robot who was most cordial and asked to have his picture taken with us! Oscar the robot carried on such an intelligent conversation that we had to tear ourselves away from him so that other people could enjoy him.
- Cotton candy tastes just as good now as it did when I was a kid. Only now it comes in a bag instead of on a cardboard cone. It's not as much fun to eat that way because it only gets your hands sticky and not your nose :0)
This is the last year the State Fair will be held in Lincoln. Next year it is moving to Grand Island, which will make it a lot farther for us to travel. I'm glad we had the chance to take this last summer fling and enjoy the variegated sights and sounds of a venerated Midwestern institution.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I've had a friend on my mind for weeks, someone who moved out of state a couple of years back. I'm glad I had only a snail mail address for her, because it gave me an opportunity to write a "real" letter and try out my new fountain pen (pictured).
Julie, my Twitter friend, has inspired me to try my hand- literally! at writing with a fountain pen. I remember writing birth announcements with a fountain pen, some 15+ years ago, with not-very-satisfactory results. Blotting, spotting, and blobs were the result. I am sure the fact that I had a cheap fountain pen contributed to that problem.
I still cannot afford a really nice fountain pen, but on a whim I picked up this Pilot Plumix at Target. The pen is lightweight and the angular barrel feels nice in my hand. It has a blue ink cartridge and a fine nib. The cost was about $6.00 and my test drive tells me it's much improved over my last experience!
There's something satisfying about hearing the gentle scratching sound of a fountain pen. It's fun, too, to add a few flourishes to the gentle art of writing.
Some might say handwriting is a lost art, but I don't think so. My Mom has the world's BEST handwriting, and my own children carry on the tradition by taking pride in their handwriting. Three of my children have used the excellent Getty-Dubay Italic handwriting system and their manuscripts look so much alike that I can hardly tell them apart! My other child has chosen to do a more traditional form of cursive because she likes the curlicues and rounded shape.
I used to be ashamed of my handwriting, but at the time I was teaching my kids to write I picked up an adult handwriting workbook, also by Getty-Dubay, called Write Now. It took me several months and some concentrated effort, but I radically changed my handwriting. I've deviated from the italic system a bit by adding my own "extras" and borrowing the best from what I have admired in others. And that is as it should be~ there is nothing more personal than the style of your handwriting.
What are your thoughts on handwriting? Do you consider it a worthy pursuit?
Monday, August 17, 2009
In my short experience of walking with the Lord, I've come to realize that fear can be one of our greatest opponents. If our adversary, the devil, can get us to be afraid, he can often get us to put down our weapon and turn-tail without a fight. If he can get us to miss out on the benefits of God's blessings, all because of the fear in our hearts, he's able to control us and remain victorious.
It seems that, so often, and especially in the church, God's people are restrained by something. Many are so afraid of what other people think of them, that they would never ever even dream of standing up and raising their hands, speaking out in a prayer meeting publicly, or walking up to the front to receive prayer. Why is this? Why do so many worry about what others think of them? Why do they remain in their little shells every Sunday morning, listen to the message like any good Christian, and then walk right back out into the world again, unchanged? Why are they so afraid to let the Spirit of God work in their hearts and change them?
I think the answer is that they haven't completely surrendered to God, and also, that they have not been perfected in love. I John 4:17-18 says: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have BOLDNESS in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is NO FEAR in love; but perfect love CASTS OUT FEAR, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."
When we are surrendered to Him, He has ALL of us. TOTAL control of us. We have given up our rights to Him, and now He is the one calling the shots. But if we aren't totally surrendered to Him, we're holding part of ourselves back. We're basically telling God, "OK, God, you can have so much of me, but I'm keeping the rest, because it feels more comfortable that way."
Wait a minute. I didn't think Jesus came to the earth so we could be more "comfortable". I thought He came to "turn up the heat", so to speak. To test us and refine us, and see which of us are true followers of Him, and willing to give up EVERYTHING, even those people and things that we hold dear, for Him. In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus says: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household'. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."
See, God's Word is 'sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit...', (Hebrews 4:12. Whether we like it or not, God's Word divides. It can divide families, marriages, and even our own soul and spirit.
So WHY, then, do most churches today attempt to remain "comfortable"? Why do many of them never experience divisions? The answer is simple. The church is NOT USING THE SWORD, the Word of God. The church is lukewarm. It's afraid to "offend" anyone by using the God's Word in its entirety, as it God intended it to be used, so instead, the church either, a): leaves out the parts of the Bible that might be "offensive", or, b): substitutes other materials for God's Word. We need to PRAY that the church would WAKE UP. There is NOTHING we have to be afraid of! Why do we always worry about what mere men think of us? The men who stand in the pulpits should NOT BE AFRAID TO CALL SIN WHAT IT IS: SIN.
As followers of Christ, we can boldly proclaim: "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6). We have NOTHING to fear, when we put our trust in Him! It's when we put our trust in man, that we start to have problems. Psalm 118:8 tells us that "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man." Proverbs 29:25 is also an important verse: "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe."
And look what you get when you put 2 Timothy 1:7 and Hebrews 13:6 together: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" "So we may boldly say: 'The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'"
AMEN. Let's stop being fearful, let's open up God's Word, open up to God's Spirit, and allow Him to work through us. And above all, let's NOT allow the Sword of the Spirit, (His Word) to get dusty and rusty. Let's continue using it, till the day Christ comes back for His bride!!
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Does your refrigerator bin overflow with crookneck and/or zucchini squash this time of year?
Mine does. Here is one more way to use it up, a great dish for a church supper.
Cheesy Squash Casserole
6 cups yellow crookneck or zucchini squash, or a combination of both-peeled & sliced into coins
1 green bell pepper, cut into rings
1 vidalia onion, sliced thin
1 small jar of fire-roasted red peppers, drained
1 can evaporated milk
2 c. grated American or cheddar cheese
bacon crumbles to taste
1/2 t. lemon pepper
1/2 t. salt
Ritz cracker crumbs
Boil the squash, bell pepper, and onion slices 2 minutes and then drain. To assemble, layer the cooked vegetables in a greased casserole dish, topping each layer with grated cheese, bacon crumbles, fire-roasted peppers, and the evaporated milk. Sprinkle the seasonings between layers. Top final layer with cheese and Ritz cracker crumbs. Bake @ 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
"LORD, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations....
Thou Dost turn man back into dust,
And dost say, "Return, O children of men."
For a thousand years in Thy sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night." from Psalm 90
My summer reading of the epic Chesapeake has set me thinking in terms of generations. Author James Michener casts a large net, drawing me into the multi-generational sagas of three families, deftly identifying the ideas that shaped each generation. No generation is exempt from wrestling with at least one big idea: expansion, slavery, education, rights, religious freedom, etc. What Michener manages to convey is that the essence of a big idea may be conceived in one generation, incubated in the next, and brought to fruition several generations later.
Last year our family watched a documentary about genetics and DNA that conveyed a parallel thought: what I do with my body matters, because I'm passing my DNA on to future generations. Similarly, in my reading of Chesapeake, I'm seeing that the ideas I embrace, the ideas that drive me-- will have no less an impact on my descendants than the DNA I bequeath to them.
Another thread to my thoughts on generations has come from my devotional reading of scripture. King David had a great desire to build a temple for his God, but was told clearly by the prophet Nathan that this was a project for his son, Solomon. So David dreamed and laid in store building materials and began a different type of building. He built the temple in the imagination of his son, Solomon. When Solomon grasped the torch from his father, he carried out the construction project with great passion. And though he got the credit for its completion, David's fingerprints are unmistakeably visible on each post and pillar.
The pillars of the temple were personified and given human names: Jachin, meaning stability and Boaz, symbolic of strength. Stability and strength were the dividends that Solomon's generation realized and they were only made possible because David was a man of war and a man of foresight.
As the autumn season of my life unfolds, it's prudent to take inventory and to ask myself
- What are the big ideas that drive me?
- How am I positioning the next generation to carry on truly important work?
- Am I building the imaginations of youth?
- What can I lay in store for the next generation so that they might finish what I cannot?
"That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth;
That our daughters may be as pillars,
Sculptured in palace style; " ~ from Psalm 144:12
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
There comes a time in the life of a family when the diaper bags are put away, the floor is no longer strewn with legos, and the big glass door sparkles--without sticky fingerprints. It is then that manager-mom looks around with some satisfaction at the order she has worked so hard to create and sighs. Ahhhh, a season of relative rest after years of weary effort! Life is good.
As she looks through that CLEAN glass door, she sees lots of kids in the neighborhood, many who are known to her by name because they've shared the swing set and the pool and daily adventures alongside her own brood. She knows them and their parents well enough to chat pleasantly. She assumes that their lives are very much like her own. Until....
One sweet young face begins to show up more often. There's a wistful look when the child comes to the door and sees the family around the table. For this child, the long summer days are not punctuated with the familiar, "D-I-N-N-E-R!!" cry that beckons the other children home for meals.
He is alone. Oh, there is an older sibling in the house but seldom an adult. His kitchen is stocked with boxes of macaroni & cheese, chips, and a few convenience foods but little else. It is not clean. He doesn't eat breakfast, and lunch he's learned to do without. It's just not worth the effort to go home and make his own mac & cheese every day. He hopes his Dad will buy him a burger when he comes home late in the evening.
His story unfolds along with the summer: turbulence at home. No one says, "I love you." There's talk of major changes; earth-shattering changes that strike fear into a little person and he wishes he'd never been born.
Instinctively, the mom-across-the-street finds the room to shelter one more under her wings. No, it's not her chick but she has food enough to spare. He can sit at her table and when he does he ogles at the "real" dishes! He can try his hand at an art project along with the art student in the family. With his family's permission, he can join in worship with the blood-bought saints, the BIG family at whose table he can satisfy the deeper hunger of his soul.
I am that Mom and this child has forever changed me. Because of him, I've become more intuitive about other "skinny kids", the kids who have hungry souls. I've extended the tent pegs of my heart.
Save the world I cannot, and my little loaves of bread pale in comparison to the needs around me. But like the little boy who brought his loaves to Jesus, I can let Him bless and multiply my offering. The paradox is this: it's MY soul that's getting fat!
"...he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat...and he shall give thee rest; yea he shall give delight unto thy soul."
Monday, July 06, 2009
*Fresh flowers on the table
*An impromptu barbecue with friends who drop by
*The soft, well worn pages of an old Bible
*Music leaking through bedroom doors: violin, guitar, keyboard
*The smell of brownies baking
*The snap of freshly laundered sheets
*Moonlight walk in the park with a loved one
Monday, June 29, 2009
We visited the Gettysburg battlefield and national cemetery on Memorial week-end, a fitting time to remember the 50,000 soldiers who were lost at this turning-point battle of the Civil War. As we stepped out of the car, the sweet smell of red clover was heavy in the air. I thought it unusual to see clover and Siberian iris planted together- I'm assuming the clover was planted solely for the fragrance? Flowers are always appropriate at a grave site, and the fragrance somehow contributed the right touch at the very beginning of the tour.
We began at the newish (2008) visitor center, which housed artifacts, a theater, and a bookstore. Oh yes, and junk food. Somehow, it felt just a little incongruous that slushies and pretzels were being sold at the site of so much bloodshed. Must Americans make a buck on everything?
Because we have some knowledge of the civil war, we eschewed the multi-media presentation and just looked. The battlefield and cemetery are places best beheld in quietude and reflection. The rows upon rows of white stone markers leave an impact, though I doubt we'll ever grasp the full impact of losing so many young lives.
The soldier on the Soldier's National Monument represents war, the lady embodies peace. I think this old-fashioned way of remembering is superior to the multi-media presentation of the battle. We need room to think, to remember, to meditate---without all of the sound effects.
photo by slakejustice
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Here's my list:
* Chesapeake- I remember seeing Michener novels at grocery stores and on nearly every adult's coffee table during my growing up years. He's written about 40 historical fiction books and I've always wanted to read at least one, so I chose Chesapeake - reputed to be one of his best. I'm about half-way through this epic length story (1000+ pages) and enjoying every page. The broad sweep enlightens me as to how an idea is germinated in one generation and comes to fruition the next. Case in point: the Quakers' opposition to slavery. One thread of this story revolves around Quakers, and their history is so colorful. Since Michener was raised a Quaker, this thread has peculiar insight and interest.
*How Does a Poem Mean?- recommended by Cindy at Dominion Family, I am reading a poem each evening and enjoying the insights of the author along the way. I won't finish this in a summer, but will savor it slowly.
*How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans & the Educations That Made Them (by Daniel Wolff)- This is my "teacher read" for the summer. Each chapter highlights the education of a different historical personage. So far I've read about Ben Franklin, Abigail Adams, and Andrew Jackson. The modern chapters will include Rachel Carson, Jack Kennedy, and Elvis Presley. I'm enjoying the approach, learning history along with the ideas about teaching.
*Women's Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present- a monster sized book that I purchased for my oldest daughter to use in school next year, I was hooked as soon as I began perusing it. This is a collection of actual letters from the Revolutionary war era to the present. History becomes personal and very memorable when read in this fashion. There are selections from famous people and unknowns, writings on significant historical events and significant personal events. One letter is from a missionary woman in Hawaii, who had to undergo a mastectomy in the 1800's sans anesthesia. Can you imagine? She lived 20+ years after!
*Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture (by Makoto Fujimura)- an artist's perspective on Ground Zero and how living through that experience impacted his art.
*Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch--an encouragement to contribute to building culture rather than to just criticize it.
Mosey on over to Seasonal Soundings to look at what other bloggers are reading this summer, then throw your own picks into the hat!
Friday, June 19, 2009
My oldest three children were already acquainted with Ken Ham via his DVD series entitled "Answers Academy," a class they had attended in our co-operative school this past year. It is amazing how strands of knowledge and events coincide by serendipity when you are homeschooling!
The Creation Museum is only 2 years old, and is very classy. It captured the element of awe and grandeur that I felt was missing from the D.C. Museum of Natural History. Ancient history came alive as we viewed life-sized scenes from Genesis 1-11: the lush garden of Eden, all manner of natural wonders including dinosaurs, the serpent, and the tree of life. When we reached the very vivid scene marking sin's entrance into the world, the change is so real that it made my heart feel literally sick. (I remember feeling that same sense of loss when I read Milton's Paradise Lost).
The section on Noah's ark I thought was exceptional. On our trip, I had been reading the novel Chesapeake, which had an extensive description of ship building by trial and error. Because of my reading, I could look at the model of the inside of the ark with a little more appreciation and understanding. Noah did not have to learn by trial and error, he only had to follow the blueprint that God provided him. Noted: "The scale of the ark is dramatic and comes close to the limits of wooden technology. With no need for masts or a streamlined hull, and without the economic restrictions of shipwrights, the ark could be made incredibly strong using ordinary wood and tools." The museum's ark exhibit is built to scale and represents 1% of the volume of Noah's ark.
Also included in the tour is a star-gazer's planetarium which introduced us to the outer regions of the cosmos and helps us measure the incredible expanse of the Creator's hand, a hand that spans the universe.
Outside the museum is a real garden so breathtakingly lovely that I just wanted to linger and linger. Gorgeous plantings, little walking bridges, fountains and statuary made this look like the real garden of Eden.
All the other museums we visited left me feeling jostled and worn, but I left the Creation Museum feeling refreshed and built up. In the future, I'd consider this as a destination and not just a side trip.
Monday, June 08, 2009
After hoofing it for three days in Washington D.C. we opted to tour Philadelphia the easy way: via horse and buggy. This turned out to be the highlight of our trip! Part of the reason it was so delightful was that we had a tour guide that oozed history from his every pore. If he had been paid by the word instead of by the hour, Brian would be a rich man! His obvious love for the history of his city was positively contagious.*
In the first two minutes of our tour we encountered landmarks marking the beginning of all three branches of our government. There were statues of the signers. Cobblestone streets. Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell. The boarding room where Thomas Jefferson did his writing. Oh my, and the architecture that brings you back in time.
Trivia: did you know that Philadelphia was the first U.S. city to have a zoo and that animal crackers were created to promote it?
Our last visit to Philadelphia was 26 years ago. People warned us this time around not to go there, that because of the crime it was not a great place to bring your family. I'm so glad we disregarded this well-meaning advice! My son had just finished reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin--what wonderful timing this trip was for him. Benjamin Franklin's fingerprints still remain all over the city.
On a personal note, this city is very dear to our hearts because our beloved (and long departed) mentor Mrs. H. lived most of her life in Phillie and always spoke of it so enthusiastically. We named our daughter after Mrs. H; it was fitting for her to walk the streets of her namesake.
*Brian told us he has a degree in history and teaches public school by day. The tour guide job was a side kick, a way for him to share his love of history with tourists. I found it interesting that Brian chooses to homeschool his own children because "I want them to learn about Betsy Ross."
Apparently, she has been expunged from the public school curriculum.
Saturday, June 06, 2009
I counted it a privilege to view and discuss the "memorial stones" of our country with my family, the monuments and museums in Washington D.C. The Lincoln Memorial is a truly awe inspiring landmark, a not-to-be-missed attraction for anyone who is touring the city.
This is not the first time I've been in the Lincoln Memorial. Each time I enter, I am amazed again by its immensity. The thirty-six imposing Doric columns of the Lincoln Memorial represent the thirty-six states that comprised the union at the time of Lincoln's death. Quoting from Newt Gingrich's book, Rediscovering God in America (which incidentally served as a wonderful walking guide to the city):
"The imposing style of both the large Doric columns and the statue of Lincoln himself are meant to depict the strength of the Union, held together through the tireless efforts of Lincoln."
Shifting focus from large to small, did you know that you can see the statue of Lincoln on the back of the penny? Put a drop of water on it, which will serve as a magnifying lens and you will see him inside the columns. Oh, the things you learn when you homeschool ;)
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Photo by Fred T
This is an unusual and engaging piece of art that we viewed in one of the Smithsonian museums (Which one? I'm having a senior moment). Who would ever think to spell out the preamble to the constitution using license plates? The plates are even in alphabetical order. Here it is:
"WE TH P PUL OF TH UNI DIDD ST8S INNOR DUR 2 4M A MOR PUR FEC UNE NONE S TAB LISH JUSTIZ N SURE DOME ESTIK TRAN KWILI T PRO VIDE 4 THE COM UN DE FENZ PRO MOT TH JEN R L WEL FARE N C CURE THE BLES NGS OF LIBBER T 2 R SELVS N R POS TERI T DO R DANE N S-TAB LISH THIS CON STI 2 10 4 TH U NI TID ST8S OF AH MARE E CUH"
You probably memorized it in school, but in case you need a refresher:
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Monday, June 01, 2009
The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular destinations of the Smithsonian institution. A visit there will doubtless be near the top of your "must see" list if you are visiting Washington D.C. with your children. The dinosaur bones, the ocean creatures, insect zoo, and cultural artifacts have the potential to amaze and delight for hours. The museum is IMMENSE, the size of 18 football fields and to explore it thoroughly would entail a couple of days.
The crowds matched the popularity of the museum, which detracted from our enjoyment of the visit because we felt rushed and jostled. It was difficult to stand and read the information because we were always aware of others impatiently waiting their turn to get up close.
The Discovery Room was a hit with Artiste, my 10 year old daughter. In this place the children find welcome relief from the "don't touch" rules. They are invited to touch and feel everything from alligator scales to shark teeth while parents can (thankfully!) rest their feet for a few minutes.
As a Christian, I view the natural world as the handiwork of a Divine Artist. I don't expect my creationist views to be affirmed when I go into a place like this. Neither do I shield my children from the strong Darwinian thrust, because I know they are fully capable of grasping truth and sifting out falsehoods.
Fully realizing my perceptions are colored by my faith, I still offer this respectful observation. The study of the natural world in this place seemed utilitarian and without the dimension of awe-inspiring delight. Darwinian theory seemed to be emphasized at EVERY possible juncture. Case in point: we were standing beneath a large whale skeleton and looking at it from every angle. A docent zeroed in on us and in a friendly, well-meaning gesture began to tell us about whale DNA. Then he told us about hippo DNA. He ended up telling us that it appears that whales evolved from hippos.
Tell me about this skeleton. How was it engineered to maneuver the depths of the sea? Wow me with its weight and its intricacies. Delight me with facts about its owner and his habits. But p-l-e-a-s-e don't force upon me the speculations of its ancestry.
There you have it-- a very opinionated evaluation of this place! It's a true national treasure and I don't negate its value, but like the poet William Wordsworth notes so worthily in his poem, let my heart leap with wonder,
Or let me die!"
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Our first stop was the National Portrait Gallery. Of all the places in D.C. that we visited, this was my favorite. It was cool and restful inside and the crowds were not as large as the ones we encountered in many of the other Smithsonian museums. We were able to amble at a leisurely pace and take our time looking and learning.
This museum tells the history of our country via portraiture. It includes portraits of presidents and poets, important and lowly, noble and ignoble; all have had a part in making our nation what it is today.
We enjoyed listening to a guided tour which focused on art during the depression. The federal government actually hired artists to produce works of art and paid them $42 a month in wages. At the time, "starving artists" were just glad to get a steady wage. What was required in return was that the works they produced became the sole property of the portrait gallery.
The "America's Presidents" exhibition was the unanimous favorite of our family. It begins with the famous "Lansdowne" portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. I did not realize that the museum nearly lost this treasure in the year 2000, when the owner who had loaned decided he wanted to sell it. Fortunately, a donor was found to keep it in its venerable position.
This collection of presidential portraits is the only one of its kind in the nation, excepting the White House. To look at the faces of each commander-in-chief made me feel as though I knew them all just a little bit better.
My son enjoyed the architecture more than the portraits. That was understandable--as you can see from these two pictures it is magnificent in every way.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
"The old teacher is too likely to become didactic, dogmatic and 'bossy' if she does not constantly strive with herself. Why? She has to be thus five days in the week and, therefore, she is likely to be so seven. She knows arithmetic, grammar and geography to their uttermost and she is never allowed to forget that she knows them, and finally her interests become limited to what she knows.
After all, what is the chief sign of growing old? Is it not the feeling that we know all there is to be known? (snip)
I know how to 'make magic' for the teacher who is growing old. Let her go out with her youngest pupil and fall on her knees before the miracle of the blossoming violet and say: 'Dear Nature, I know naught of the wondrous life of these, your smallest creatures. Teach me!'"
Friday, May 08, 2009
“My work, like my experience of life, is about layers.
I layer color over color and glass over glass, opacity over transparency. Just as joy layers over sorrow and today over yesterday, in my art patches of brilliant colors peek through darker ones like sweet secrets heard on a summer day, remembered in winter. So all my experiences come together in each work. Brilliant background colors express the joyous freedom of my childhood Idaho summers; layered with years of work and study, loss and gain. The tactile top layer expresses the now – taking us right up to the present, which will never be here again.”
Saturday, April 25, 2009
My daughter snapped this picture of me last week-end when we were retreating with the lovely ladies from Des Moines and the surrounding small towns. These BIG shoes served as a prop in a monologue as a young woman sat at the feet of Jesus pouring out her life story. Notice the logo and the heart-shaped holes for the shoe strings. These women were so creative!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The wind whipped the car door out of control and it slammed into the Cadillac parked next to us, leaving a door "ding" behind. My husband wrote a little explanatory note and placed it on the windshield, along with our contact information so that we could make it right with the owner.
A few days later an elderly man called and identified himself as the owner of the car. To my surprise, he was not calling to ask us for damage reimbursement. He was calling to thank us for being honest. We ended up having a very pleasant conversation and I hung up feeling as though I had made a new friend.
It's interesting to think about how our lives intersect with others; sometimes the most trivial of events brings someone or something new and fresh into our lives. I like to turn it over in my mind at day's end, to take it out of my memory-pocket and enjoy it a second time.
What brings a smile to you at the end of your day?
Thursday, April 09, 2009
I enjoy collecting quotes, both philosophic and practical. Lately I've been drawn to quotes about housekeeping, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one taken from the book Cold Sassy Tree:
Miss Love was washing a kitchen window that looked clean to me already. It seemed like every time I went down there, she was washing floors or windows, one, despite she'd cleaned the whole house good last summer. "Miss Love, I reckon you ain't heard about fall and spring cleanin'," I said one day. She had come out on the back porch to empty her wash water just as I headed for the barn. I said, "In between spring and fall, and fall and spring, ma'am, you just s'posed to sweep and mop and use the feather duster and like that."
"I like the Yankee way better," she said, bristling. I reckon she thought Mama had criticized how she did. "Up North, ladies do extra cleaning every week in one room. Brush down the walls and wash the floor one week, maybe wash windows and curtains the next, and so on. When they get that room done, they start on another. The house stays nice year round, and it's not exhausting like doing all the heavy cleaning at once."
When I told Mama, she said, "I'd rather get worn out twice a year than stay worn out all the time."
I recently heard the famous Flylady on a DVD seminar. She said that the custom of spring cleaning came about during the era of coal furnaces. After having the house closed up all winter, there would be black soot on everything and a thorough spring cleaning was a necessity. Flylady would come down firmly in the Yankee camp when it comes to housekeeping.
Do you have a housekeeping calendar that you live by? Are you a Yankee or a Southern homemaker?
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Wisdom is the pursuit of a lifetime, and it entails both gathering and giving. According to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the gathering process might include any or all of the following:
- Honing the ability to listen and hear wise things (some don't recognize wisdom when they hear it!)
- Acquiring wise counsel from elders or mentors
- Embracing the teaching of parents
- Treasuring wise words
- Engaging more life energy to the pursuit of wisdom than to the pursuit of wealth
- Tenacity in holding on to the good instruction that has been received
- Training the mind to think deeply and reflectively on the wisdom that has been gathered and gained, so as to add even more to the cache.
- Developing the habit of gathering wisdom each and every day
No one can be truly wise who gathers but fails to give. Like breathing, wisdom requires intake and exhalation. The giving or exhaling might look something like this:
- Speaking only at the right time and in measured words
- Actively transferring wisdom to worthy student(s) via informal or formal relationships
- Writing or making permanent the specific wisdom-work that has become your own
- Inviting others to partake of your bounty
- Carefully guarding a lifestyle that models wisdom without words
I can trace seasons of my life where I have gathered, often followed by seasons of giving. I suppose a little of both happen in the course of most days, but sometimes there are longer and more pronounced seasons of one or the other.
It seems like I am in a "giving" season right now. I've prepared a dozen messages for public speaking all to be delivered within a seven-week period. It's both exhilarating and draining! It's also very, very humbling.
I remember the first time I spoke to a group of 100 ladies, about 17 years ago. I was used to speaking, but on a much smaller scale. This larger, unfamiliar setting caused acute nervousness and I had the typical stage fright symptoms of sweaty palms and dry mouth.
Shortly after that, I had my first baby and I stepped out of public ministry. Period. For ten years.
A funny thing happened when I returned to teaching and speaking: I lost the stage fright. Rather than feeling rusty or timid, I felt a new sense of confidence and enjoyment in the process of giving. After "losing" ten years of practice, how could it be possible to advance in my ability to share truth?
I attribute it to the fact that those ten years added incredible, maturing life experiences to the mental knowledge I had been tucking away. I now had living examples of both success and failure to add breadth and credibility to the things I was saying. I had grown, not just by studying but by LIVING.
My husband, who is a pastor and who often speaks 3 or more times weekly, was discussing this with me the other day. He has come to similar conclusions that I have. Studying for a particular speaking engagement is very important, but there is something beyond that discipline that enables us to truly benefit those who will listen to us. It's a lifestyle of wisdom: gleaning it day in and day out, here a little and there a little. It's a lifestyle of reading and praying and crying and laughing and eating and drinking and working. There are many people who do these things every day, but the one who gleans those experiences for wisdom will have a fully loaded treasury from which to draw, to benefit himself as well as others.
"Spread the wealth around" may not be good advice for the economic health of a nation, but it is very good advice for those who are dealing with a commodity more precious than money--wisdom.
How have you gained or given wisdom this week?
"Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding;
For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver,
And her gain than fine gold.
She is more precious than rubies,
And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
Length of days is in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who retain her."
Proverbs 3:13-18 (NKJV)
Saturday, April 04, 2009
I'm not sure how it is that I missed this movie when it was in its heyday, but I wouldn't have appreciated it much in 1989 anyway because I hadn't yet fully developed a love of poetry. Oh, I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.
The poet-teacher (Robin Williams) sparks a love of poetry in his preppy students, and in the process they learn to think, to feel, to appreciate beauty, to take risks, and to seize the day (carpe diem!) I've come to believe that poetry is an indispensable tenet of a liberal (generous) education, and that yes--- it really can contribute significantly to the health of society.
I loved watching Robin William's (a.k.a. John Keating) joi de vivre and his unorthodox teaching methods. Learn about poetry cadences by doing military drills outside. View the world from a different angle by standing on the desk. Read poetry by candlelight in a dark cave. Evoke laughing and weeping from your students by living with them.
There's a bit of tragedy in this movie, and some rough spots that I would speed over quickly when watching with children. The poetic word set events in motion amongst these typical high school students, having an almost domino-effect on their lives. Witnessing it makes me want to "eat and drink the precious words" all the more. Poetry keeps us young.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I'm touched that others in our congregation also see it, and seek to share in bearing the sorrow: a special prayer of encouragement, a tender pat on the back, and treats. Oh, the treats. Food and comfort are inexplicably linked, don't you think? After church today my husband grinned as he opened up the goody bag that contained the heartfelt offerings of special saints. A giant Snickers bar, his favorite. A slightly smashed doughnut. Huge, heavenly cinnamon rolls dripping with silky frosting. Small gifts chosen for the express purpose of lifting his spirit, of sending the message that "I want to bear your burden as you bear the burdens of others." How welcome it is.
I am reminded of a very old man that I once knew when I was working in a skilled nursing facility. He was a Jewish man that had attained the status of a centenarian. When ever he would hear of the death of one of his fellow residents, he would pause for ever-so-long and then say reverently,
Monday, March 16, 2009
As I take my daily walk, I've been hungrily scanning the landscape for signs of spring. Really, I would settle for one small snowdrop, a crocus, or just the green foliage of a daffodil--but spring has been eluding me in spite of the fact the temperatures are warming.
Today, though, I was rewarded with this: a little girl perched in a tree, swinging her legs and reading. I'm glad I didn't have my camera because it would have broken the spell. She's safer in my memory bank, anyway---the first welcome sign of spring.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
"After all," Anne had said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string."
Life at Green Gables was full of just such days, for Anne's adventures and misadventures, like those of other people, did not all happen at once, but were sprinkled over the year, with long stretches of harmless, happy days between, filled with work and dreams and laughter and lessons.
~quote taken from Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery