Saturday, January 31, 2009

Locked in Winter?

By the time we hit February, the loveliness of the winter season begins to grow dull--at least for me. The snow looks dirty, the floor has that telltale sand brought in with winter boots, and I am craving sunshine.

I'm thankful I am surrounded by youth. The world is still all beauty and wonder in their eyes, and they help me to re-focus. Here is "Winter" as seen through the eyes of my daughter, Melody.


Snowflakes fall; white and soft, blanketing the rooftops;
Windows bear the icy glint of winter's frosty fingerprints.

Silence claims the sparkling stream; shrouding it with crystal gleam;
Shutting out, so no one see, the living creatures underneath.

Daylight fades and leaves behind brilliant stars to light the night;
Pictures; hanging in the sky, impress wonder on the mind.

Deep in sleep, the peaceful trees sigh beneath the stirring breeze;
Dreaming of a lively scene, that waits to take its part in Spring.

poem and photo by Melody, age 16

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Look at Extravagance

At first glance, the Biblical priest Aaron appears to be slighted by the LORD when he was told,

"You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel." Numbers 18:20

A closer look, however, reveals that Aaron received the most extravagant gift---a gift that made him infinitely richer than his brothers.

The gift was God Himself.

Whenever another person gives the gift of self, he/she is displaying an aspect of God's very nature. When I give of myself to another, I am putting His character on display and this action changes me. Every time I make the choice to give of myself, I'm a little less attached to the material world and a little more invested in eternity. I am being changed from glory to glory, until at last I reach the full stature of maturity, fully bearing the image of Christ to a fallen world.

"God's gifts are many; His best gift is one. It is the gift of Himself." ~~A.W. Tozer

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Marble Cheese Cake

My oldest daughter is practicing cooking skills this year as a school elective. We are journeying through the New Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, studying the nutrition information, the kitchen hints, and choosing a few recipes from each section. Today it was marble cheesecake, and it turned out beautifully! My cheesecakes always tasted good, but had ugly cracks on top UNTIL I learned to put a pan of water in the oven while the cheesecake is baking. Because cheesecake is a company dessert, the appearance is important and this hint has so far been 100% effective.

Do you like cheesecake? I'm glad this one isn't for company!

Ideas Have Consequences Chpt 8: The Power of the Word

Community can be possible only via the vehicle of language. Words connect me not only to my contemporaries, but to my forefathers. I have access to a great, universal memory bank when I engage in reading.

If our language degenerates, if we begin to love THINGS rather than words, the link that binds us in community is broken. Do you remember the old song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" It asks a great question! If we cease to be word- lovers, if we cease to read--- our conversation with past generations is broken. We are bankrupt, without the wise guidance of collective ages and having no compass for the future.

When words devolve and become merely utilitarian, we lose the ability to engage in higher thinking. We are robbed of the rich opportunity to grasp truth because we're not able to use metaphor or understand symbolism. This handicap cuts us off from the past and prevents us from laying up for the future. In the words of Richard Weaver:

"(snip)...father and child live in different worlds, and speech fails to provide a means to bridge them."
Need proof? Note that languages have been dropped from the core curriculum of our educational system. My husband, born in 1953, said that all 4 of his older siblings learned Latin, but it had been dropped by the time he went through the system. In my own small-town school system, it was not even an option.

Notice also that poetic/literature courses no longer compose the core curriculum of many schools, but are considered electives. I shudder to recall that "Fiction of the 70's" gave me the necessary credits to graduate from high school, while I missed Shakespeare and Homer. My tastes were not developed. I did not know what was good for me or what I was missing.

Richard Weaver, the author of this book, writes a prescription for the rehabilitation of the word:
  • poetry (via literature and rhetoric)
  • logic (dialectic)

This is classical education; it is what saves us from utilitarianism, from brutality, from degenerating into sentimentality.

In the second part of his rx, the dialectic, Weaver notes that the science of naming is indispensable to logic. He equates "namers" with "lawgivers" and makes the point that "stable laws require a stable vocabulary." (What does that do to the idea that our constitution is fluid?)

This chapter encouraged me. It affirms my daily, plodding efforts to incorporate Browning and Coleridge and Dickinson to our our routine. These efforts bring us out of the temporal and save us from a merely utilitarian existence.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
~~~2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (New King James Version)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

String Art

Judging from the color schemes I find in the pattern-book, The Beautiful String Art Book, this was an art form that must have been popular in the 70's. No matter, we are updating the colors a bit and charging ahead with this project. Each of my children have picked a pattern and I have had them enlarged at Kinko's. We have the smooth plywood backgrounds and are ready to paint.

I expect the better part of the work will be spent putting dots on the templates where the nails will go. I also expect that this will take a lot of time, patience, and even math skills in order to space the nails in order correctly.

We do art appreciation in our home on a regular basis, and have over the years done quite a few one-hour type of projects. I've been feeling the need to do something a little more significant, something they could be proud of completing. This fits the bill. I can't wait to see the finished results!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lessons in Extravagance

In a culture that favors youth, the aged are often looked upon as tottering old fools whose days of giving and usefulness are past. The saddest part of this scenario is that the elderly are conditioned to believe this about themselves.

For six years I delivered meals-on-wheels. I cannot tell you how many elderly people I encountered who were glued to the TV; no change in routine from day to day, no human contact (except me), no purpose. It grieved me.

If only they could have known that their moment for extravagant giving had come! If only old Uncle Jack Beechum could have shared his wisdom with them:

"At the oddest times....(snip) he would come to visit me. This was the tenderness of an old man....(snip). It was a love almost not of this world, and yet entirely of it. He brought me presents---little sacks of penny candy with their necks twisted shut, or little bouquets from neighbors' flower beds to which he helped himself.

But he himself, though he would not have thought it, was the best present. He had no small talk and few of what are called social graces. he had a kind of courtesy that required few words, and with me a gentleness that was as deliberate and forceful as his bouquets of stolen flowers so roughly broken off....(snip) He knew that I was living in loss, that the baby had been born into loss. He knew, if anybody did, that there was nothing that could be done about it, nothing certainly that he could do, and yet he came. He came to offer himself...."
~from the novel Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry**

Did you catch it? The most extravagant gift is the offering of self. Just to be with another in his/her affliction, just to stand alongside the one struggling is a gift of inestimable value. In the season of old age, time is the precious commodity that can be given with extravagance.

The glad exception that I encountered in my years of delivering meals was a real-live person named Bernice. She was severly crippled with arthritis; her hands were badly contracted and she was in a wheelchair. But she always sought to slow me down, offer me a cup of tea, or write down a recipe for me. I knew this to be a labor of love; she could not hold a pencil but by great difficulty.

As I grew to know Bernice, I learned an amazing thing about her. She had determined to make herself useful. Each afternoon, she brought out the stationery and wrote a letter to her missionary-of-the day. She was determined to let them know they were not forgotten; they were being upheld by her in prayer. When any of these missionaries came back on furlough, she saw to it that they had a gift certificate to one of the finer department stores in town so they could buy themselves a "fashionable new outfit and some beads." Although she couldn't get out to hear them when they made the rounds to speak, she took pleasure in knowing she had helped them look nice for their speaking engagements.

I still have Bernice's recipe card in my box and whenever I thumb through the cards and see her handwriting, I am warmed by her memory. She has long passed on to her reward, but her example is in my heart's treasure box forever. Like her, I want to live--and give-- extravagantly.

**Join a great discussion on this book over at the Hannah Coulter Book Club for Copy Cats!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Extravagance and Thrift: Strange Bedfellows?

Can extravagance and thrift co-exist, or are they mutually exclusive? My interest in both subjects has recently been piqued, and I've been doing mind gymnastics ever since.

Here are my thoughts:

Extravagance is providing bread and fish for a crowd of 5,000--as much as they wanted.
Thrift is gathering up twelve baskets of leftovers afterward.

Extravagance is buying a wardrobe at Coldwater Creek.
Thrift is doing the shopping in January when the prices are reduced 70%

Extravagance is having two cars.
Thrift is driving one that is 15 years old.

Extravagance is having a whole afternoon to read.
Thrift is budgeting the time in advance.

Thrift seems to be the backdrop against which I can appreciate extravagance. How would I ever appreciate the costliness of a gift if I had never experienced the discipline of economizing? Thrift then, becomes a means by which I develop a spirit of gratefulness. It enables me to recognize and rejoice in the extravagances that God pours down upon me.

Incidentally, here's another gem: "lavish"~a synonym of extravagant~ comes from the old French word lavasse, which means "downpour."

That reminds me of the old hymn Showers of Blessing:

"There shall be showers of blessing:"
Send them upon us O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor Thy Word.

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thrift as a Strategy for Pleasure?

"She was an old-fashioned housewife: determined and skillful and saving and sparing. She worked hard, provided much, bought little, and saved everything that might be of use, buttons and buckles and rags and string and paper sacks from the store. She mended leaky pans, patched clothes, and darned socks. She used the end of a turkey's wing as a broom to sweep around the stove."
~~Quote from Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

When I came across this paragraph in my reading, I had to chuckle. I could so perfectly picture my Grandma and her turkey wing. She was a farm wife, too, from the same era as Hannah Coulter and she deserves some respect! Since January 17-24th is National Thrift Week, and since country's economic health is seriously compromised, what better time to pull out that old-fashioned word "thrift"?

The words "thrifty" and "frugal" can both be traced to root words that suggest healthy growth. "Thrift" is related to "thrive" as in a thriving plant; and "frugal" has a Latin root that is equivalent to "fruitful". Both words have very positive connotations and yet to many (maybe most) people they conjure up mental pictures of boring old misers.

Ben Franklin, the historical character who epitomizes the idea of thrift, insisted that being thrifty was a strategy for pleasure. Yes, pleasure!

Always a public servant, Ben Franklin's economizing enabled him to be a generous giver. Giving to others is indeed one of the great secrets of happiness. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

We are centering our women's retreat around the Proverbs 31 woman this year~~ a woman who epitomizes the qualities of generosity, economy, industry, and resourcefulness. I am excited to hear from some of the older women on these issues and to glean from their life experiences.

The thrifty housewife described in my beginning quote may have fallen out of fashion, but the principles by which she lived her life are timeless. It's time to bring her back into view, emulate her, and pass her virtuous character on to a new generation.

For more on this subject, read David Blankenship's excellent article on the "American Apostle of Thrift" here.

303 Candles for Ben Franklin

January 17th marked the 303rd birthday of Benjamin Franklin. In his honor, I thought I would throw in a bit of BF trivia.

I usually picture Ben as he appears on the one-hundred dollar bill (not that I see many of those!): a rather stodgy looking, older gentleman. When I read his autobiography, I was surprised to find out that he was quite athletic as a young man. He was an excellent swimmer, and was in demand as a swimming teacher during one of his stints in England.

He is also credited with creating the "swimmies" that we put on the arms of our young swimmers to keep them afloat; his were made out of wood.

Incidentally, we had a private swimming teacher that gave us a great tip as to how to wean a child off of floaties. Take a little air out of them every time you swim. The child will compensate by learning to put more personal effort into staying on top of the water. Eventually the floaties will slip right off and by that time the child will not even miss them.

Kudos to Ben Franklin, a multi-faceted and genuinely interesting personage from our nation's history.

Vintage photo compliments of The Graphics Fairy

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Mystery Menu for Sweet 16

We had TWO birthdays this week~ Melody, my oldest, celebrated her "sweet 16" and Joy is 13. That means we now have three, yes three teenagers in this house.

I remember when I had three in diapers and I wondered what it would be like when we got further on down the road. Now I know! It's a whirlwind of noise and activity and it's exhausting and it's fun.

We had a "mystery menu" for Melody's party; this was something I remembered doing in my own teen years. Each dinner guest circled a certain number of menu items, which were written as a riddle. Unless they were very good at decoding, they hadn't a clue what they were ordering. They might have to eat their salad with a toothpick or their corn with a knife.

Here was our menu:



Circle 2 Blue
Circle 2 Black
Circle 1 Brown
Circle 1 Green
Circle 2 Red
Circle 1 Aqua
Circle 2 Purple

Yellow teeth (corn)

Secret Garden (garden salad)

Perfect Pitch (fork)

Babe (ham)

Dr. Doolittle (animal crackers)

Smiles Galore (cheese)

Little Dipper (spoon)

Irish eyes (baked potato)

Gasoline (coke)

Snow White (apple)

Ski Slope (ice cream)

Twiggy (toothpick)

Jungle Lice (rice)

Roman Mix-Up (Caesar salad)

A Sporty English Gal (Cornish Game Hen)

Sword in the Stone (knife)

Polly’s Delight (crackers)

Farmer’s Friend (water)

Sponge Bob (bread)

Jack (knife)

Cherry Red Mustang (Red Velvet Cake)

Skinny Leprechauns (green beans)

Florida Sunshine (orange juice)

Pucker Power (Dill pickle spear)

Mary Poppins (spoon)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Extravagance of God

ex·trava·gance (ek stravə gəns, ik-) noun 1 lavishness 2 costing a great deal 3 exceeding the limits of reason and necessity and unusually high in price.

What do you think of when you hear the word "extravagant"?

Do you think of God?

The human mind seems to have a "default" setting that needs to be re-calibrated frequently. "Default" setting thoughts are of this sort: God is miserly. He won't bless me because I don't deserve it. Nothing will ever change. Etc. ad nauseum.

The way to change the default setting is to renew the mind with true and lofty thoughts of God.
The Bible is the perfect rx for negative thinking (especially the Psalms) and should be taken daily.

Quotes like this one may be added PRN:

If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go.
-Annie Dillard

No Little Plans

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood...Make big plans, aim high in hope and work.
Daniel H. Burnham
US architect & city planner (1846 - 1912)

I've been reading blogs this evening, looking at the New Year's resolutions and goals that others have set for the new year. Taken as a large dose, the good intentions that have been penned are both inspiring and a little overwhelming. Most bloggers have thoughtfully resolved to read more good books, drink more water, eat more veggies, and run more laps. Good things, all.

Been there. Done that.

This year I'm not going to write any resolutions or goals, because I always set the bar too low.

God has shown me His extravagance, and it is above and beyond what I could ask or imagine.

  • I save pennies for a week-end away. He gives us 2 weeks in an oceanfront home, no cost.
  • I try to get a few families together for homeschooling fellowship and He drops a whole co-operative school in my lap.
  • My goal to use a little cubby at church as a homeschool library blossoms when the librarian finds 10 one hundred dollar bills under her windshield wiper with a note saying it is to be used as seed money for a library.
  • The seemingly unaffordable goal that I had for my daughter's musical compositions was to have them professionally recorded. The recording has been done~~largely a gift~~ at a cost within our means.
  • Our goal as a church has been to obtain a radio station. After waiting many years, it appears yet again that our request was too small......the answer is larger than what we asked for.

Need I go on?

God is BIG beyond my wildest comprehension and EXTRAVAGANT in His lovingkindness to me. This year I want also to be extravagant in pouring out the ointment of my love at His feet.

Blessed New Year!