Sunday, October 14, 2007

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Midwife of Souls and Chocolate Cake

Today the Punk Pastor is doing his first funeral. It has been a long week for him of bedside watching and praying. Pastors are among the few people in our society who actually confront death on a regular basis. It puts them face to face with their own mortality. "Remember Pr. S-- (a seminary professor), how calm and self-contained he was, like nothing could shake him?" he said, returning from the hospital earlier this week. "It was thirty years of this. Of watching other people die and dealing with the details of his own mortality." Needless to say, the man needed some space.

Yesterday, I found suddenly that I was the pastor's wife, not just my husband's wife. I was leading a Cub Scout meeting. The kids and I had volunteered to run a booth with some other homeschoolers at a fall festival today. The shopping hadn't been done yet, since the Scientist needed the doctor yesterday, and the pantry was bare. I took calls from the funeral home. How many pallbearers are there? Can we come set up at 8:30 in the morning? Has the pastor received a copy of the obituary?

And in the midst of this, the ladies of the church called and asked if I could bring a dessert of salad for the funeral lunch. I'm not by nature a seamlessly organized person. A day like that would ordinarily send me into a tailspin. But I was calm as a summer's day. It must have been grace. I thought, if I grab something easy to make while I'm at the grocery store, I can get it ready this evening after Scouts and it will be ready for tomorrow. And I said yes. And somehow, in between things, I popped a cake into the oven. I went to Scouts. I came home, stacked the layers, and warmed up leftovers for dinner. I put the Cookie Mouse to bed and frosted it. And the I went to the funeral home for visitation.

The family is all here from out of state, four siblings, of this dear lady, and their spouses. There were two more who were unable to come. She had been the eldest and had raised them all when their mother died. It's funny the details you learn about people after they die, the big picture you get of their lives, things no one ever mentioned when they were living, that just don't come up in conversation. They were all so warm. They seemed so glad that I had come. I thought as I left the funeral home that it was sad that the only reason I was meeting them was because someone they loved had died, and that they would all go home and I would probably never meet them again.

I came home and folded bulletins -- church bulletins and funeral bulletins -- while sitting in bed with the Punk Pastor watching As Time Goes By.

And today is the funeral. Two funerals, actually. Another lady passed away the same day, not a member of our church, but the mother of one of our parishioners. So while the kids and I are stuffing scarecrows in the Land of Oz, the Punk Pastor will be attending one funeral and preaching another. It's like a meatball sandwich. You'll have to read the Forum Letter to understand that one.

And in the spirit of a meatball sandwich, here is the world's easiest and most delicious chocolate cake, the one the Scientist made for her tea party last week, the one the Swordmaster will make for the Cub Scout cake auction next week, the one I made for the funeral lunch today.

+In memoriam L.P.A.W. +

Friday, October 12, 2007

Time for Thyme

Even though I always have a pot of thyme on my porch, I had forgotten what a wonder worker this herb is and neglected to use it.

Then yesterday the Scientist woke up feeling terrible. This is not unusual when her allergies are acting up, but this was more terrible than average. I gave her a benedryl and some tylenol. It didn't help, and after half a morning of listening to her whine and dragging her through her lessons, she said, "Mom, can I go to the doctor? I have pressure in my ears."

"Pressure in the ears" gets you an immediate trip to the doctor at our house. I was pretty sure she wasn't infected, just stopped up with allergies, but I don't like to mess around with ear infections, and that's how they start. I got her a doctor's appointment for the afternoon, then looked around the house for some decongestant to help relieve those ears. There was none. Then I thought of the thyme on my porch. It is very effective for congestion. In fact, last fall, I had taken a teaspoon full of thyme vinegar each morning and suffered no hay fever misery at all.

I had been reading one of Susun Weed's Wise Woman Herbal series the night before. I'm always conflicted about whether to sell the one book by her I do own, or buy all the rest. She takes a very Pagan approach to herbalism, so a Christian reader has to sift through the wheat and the chaff when using her material. Still, she knows her herbs, and her book offers the most clear, exact, practical instructions for preparing herbs that I have found anywhere.

With her instructions fresh in my mind, I brought in a couple of handfuls of thyme from the porch, placed them in a large glass jar, and put the kettle on. The thyme was infusing while we were at the doctor's office.

The doctor looked in the Scientist's ears and throat, made and face, and wryly commented, "I'll have to say something to the receptionist about giving the kids red lollipops before they come in here!" He then pronounced (as I had expected) that her ears were not infected, but they were full of fluid. Since the tylenol hadn't given her any relief, he prescribed some ear drops for the pain and told us to come back if she developed a fever.

The ear drops brought almost instant relief, though she didn't like the gooey glycerin based stuff oozing down into her ear. So she wasn't very keen on drinking down a cupful of thyme infusion afterwards, even if it was sweetened with over a tablespoon of honey. Still, she was up against a mother determined to stop this thing from getting infected, so drink it she did.

It didn't have the immediate effect of the ear drops. Herbs are gentle, and thyme doesn't instantly open your sinuses the way diphenhydramine does. But by this morning, she had no ear pressure and didn't need any ear drops. I gave her another cupful of infusion at breakfast and she has been her rosy self all day.

Please note: Thyme is an emmenagogue and uterine stimulant, and should not be used medicinally during pregnancy.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Dessert First!

I hope it was as much fun for my kids as it was for me to take off on vacation the very week that public schools in our town went back in session. Sort of like having dessert first. We spent the first week with my parents and 9 year old brother (the kids call each other cousins, and we haven't broken it to them yet that he's quite technically their uncle!) They all had a blast staying up much later and watching way more television than any of them is ever allowed, cleaning out the treehouse, and riding go-karts and bumper boats in honor of the Scientist's birthday. (That's me on the bumper boats...)

After all the family frivolity, we headed home, spent a night under our own roof, and then went west for a week to Manitou Springs, Colorado. The best kept secret in Colorado, as far as we're concerned, is the Red Wing Motel's hot tub suite. There is no tuxedoed wait staff or marble floors; this is an older, family owned, fifties motel, nothing fancy, but they take care of you in all the ways that matter, right down to knowing how many people would be in our suite and leaving an appropriate number of mints and towels, and even a bed pad for the Cookie Monster (although she doesn't need one). There are novels and books to borrow in the lobby, and a notebook containing menus from all the nearby restaurants. The owners live on site and do everything related to the motel themselves, right down to cleaning the rooms (with environmentally friendly cleaners), and they greet you and ask if there's anything you need as they go about their business. Having a microwave, coffee maker, and refrigerator in the room allowed us to subsist on sandwiches and keep our eating out within reason. There is a children's playground and skate park right across the street, and a great Chinese restaurant a block away. The heated pool and the in-room jacuzzi were vacation enough, and if we had done nothing but swim and soak, drink our daily bottle of water from the mineral springs, and stuff ourselves with Happy Family and Sweet and Sour Chicken, everyone would have been completely satisfied.

But we couldn't just lounge around like we were on vacation or something. Homeschool is in session here, people. First stop -- Garden of the Gods, a paradise of hiking trails amid huge sandstone rock formations:

Not only does Garden of the Gods have free admission, they also offer a Junior Ranger Program. Most state and national parks offer this program, in which children 6 and up can complete learning activities relating to the park and earn a patch and certificate recognizing their work. The Scientist and the Swordmaster both had a lot of fun learning about geology, native cultures, and wildlife as they earned their patches.

Next stop, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings:

These cliff dwellings are partially reconstructed and a bit touristy, but visitors are allowed to touch and explore inside the dwellings, which made it lots of fun. Plaques all around the site explain what how the different rooms were used. The details of the architecture were fascinating; for example, in the photo, that's a door behind the kids, not a window. And some doors were T-shaped, to allow the elderly a hand grip when climbing through. It took a good bit of parental direction to get the children to slow down, read the plaques, and find out what they were seeing, since the whole place just seemed to invite them to climb and run from one room to the next:

In the museum (once we found it amidst the maze of gift shops) we learned about cradle boards and skulls, how manure is used in the making of the traditional black pottery, how to build an adobe pit house, and the numerous uses for the yucca plant (who knew?)

Pike's Peak
was next; I survived the drive, and we all enjoyed donuts, coffee and hot chocolate at the top. The kids were introduced to the aspen, the ponderosa pine, and we discussed what was the Gold Rush, why trees don't grow above 12,000 feet, why it is colder on a mountaintop, what happens to an empty plastic bottle when you carry it up Pike's Peak and down again, and what happens when brakes get too hot.

On our way to Pike's Peak, we saw a sign for the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, and set aside an afternoon for it. Florissant is the site of an ancient lake, and is one of the richest fossil beds in North America. Our hike was hurried because of an approaching thunderstorm, but we were all still amazed by the fossilized stumps of ancient giant redwood trees.

On the last day, we visited the Van Briggle pottery, and the Ghost Town Museum. The museum was hokey, but we did get to pan for real gold. I suspect the kids -- at least the older two -- were a little disappointed at how labor intensive and unproductive the process really was, but we did come out with four small specks of gold. This we compared in the gift shop to pyrite, or fool's gold. After taking the children back by the Garden of the Gods nature center to pick up their Junior Ranger badges in the afternoon, I detoured into the Rock Ledge Historic Ranch. With a buy one get one free coupon from the nature center, it cost us a mere $8 admission, and was far and away the best of the west. (Sorry, no pictures -- I didn't have the camera that day!) Rock Ledge is a living history ranch, with interpretive sites ranging from American Indians of the 1600-1700s on through the turn of the century. It is authentic, authentic, authentic, with knowledgeable re-enactors who answered the myriad questions the children threw at them, and the original and meticulously refurnished homes of the various owners and inhabitants of the ranch over the course of three centuries. The carriage house offers an exhibit about Thomas MacLaren, a Scottish architect who came to Colorado Springs -- like Van Briggle of the Van Briggle Pottery -- because of tuberculosis. So, on top of it all, we discussed tuberculosis, sanatoriums, and the open air cure.

All in all there was ample fodder for nature notebooks/discovery journals, plus postcards written to faraway friends (a lesson from First Language Lessons we saved especially for the trip), reading of road maps, and calculating the cost of the journey... a full week of non-stop learning punctuated by moments of utter relaxation. And I didn't have to cook anything more complicated than a sandwich -- now that's a vacation!

Friday, August 17, 2007

And King Arthur was Homeschooled Too...

...with Merlyn as his tutor. In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Merlyn kicks off the Wart's (Arthur's) education by turning him into a fish:
The Wart found that he had no clothes on. He found that he had tumbled off the drawbridge, landing with a smack on his side in the water. He found that the moat and the bridge had grown hundreds of times bigger. He knew that he was turning into a fish.
"Oh Merlyn, " he cried. "Please come too!"
"For this once," said a large and solemn tench beside his ear. "I will come. But in future you will have to go by yourself. Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance."
--T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Merlyn has made us a beginning. And so has Muad'Dib. That education is experience, that every experience carries its lesson, that self-reliance is a necessary element -- are true. But education must necessarily be more than experience. It must go beyond experience. After all, what is life but one long succession of experiences? And how many people go through life's experiences without ever learning its lessons? Experience alone is a shaky foundation for knowledge, shakier still for faith. It is not our experiences, but how we reflect upon our experiences, which matters. And if our reflection leads us to the wrong conclusions, what then? Thus education also means imparting a framework through which we can interpret our experiences.

"Logic!" said the Professor, half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"
-- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Muad'Dib was Homeschooled

That's what my dh quipped to me last night while reading his mooched copy of Dune. Okay, maybe not homeschooled, but at least instilled with one of the primary tenets of homeschooling:

Many have marked the speed at which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the others, we can say that Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. MuadDib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
-- Frank Herbert, Dune

Monday, August 13, 2007

cowboys herding cats

Sometimes, on "those" days, I liken parenting to herding cats. My children were asking me about this simile, and as is often the case, a picture is worth a thousand words -- and a YouTube video is worth a hundred thousand. I don't know who EDS is, but I hope their stock goes out the roof.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stereotypes and Reality

For this past week's Carnival of Homeschooling, Henry Cate of Why Homeschool wrote a Response to a Comment criticizing his blogging about the negative aspects of public schooling. The original commenter held some strong opinions about homeschooling, but his arguments demonstrated that he was more informed by stereotypes than by any real familiarity with actual homeschoolers. One of his assertions was that, "Only parents who can afford to stay home all day can afford to home school." This sparked the following little exchange, which caught my interest:
Janine Cate said...
>What I don't understand is why homeschooling elicits such animosity that traditional private & parochial schooling does not.

I think middle class parents don't feel guilty about not sending their children to a parochial or private school because of the cost. With homeschooling being within reach of middle class, it would be easy to get defensive.

Anonymous said...
Just to be picky ... many, many middle class families send their kids to private school. Private schools are not the exclusive domain of the rich. Very often, middle class private schooling parents make similar financial sacrifices that many homeschooling families make in order to give their children the education that's best for them. It's all about freedom of choice for each family.

But the commenter is correct that private schoolers do not seem to be called out as having "abandoned" public schools the way homeschoolers are.

Janine Cate said...
That's very true. For some reason middle class families are seen as noble for sacrificing to pay for private school while homeschool parents are seen as selfish. Go figure.
And then Dana at Principled Discovery has been playing around with some homeschool stereotypes . All this has had me thinking a bit about homeschool stereotypes, so it profoundly satisfied the armchair anthropologist in me to stumble across this poll, which demonstrates that the reality is much more diverse than the stereotypes:

Q: Will the stands the candidates take on education affect how you vote for President?
(of 58 respondents)

  • 59% - They must support homeschooling!
  • 16% - I don't care, I'll homeschool anyway.
  • 14% - I will vote for my chosen party anyway.
  • 12% - I don't vote.
NOTE: Well over half of those responding to this poll want the highest office filled by someone who recognizes the needs and contributions of homeschoolers.

Q: Why do you homeschool?
(of 459 respondents)

  • 42% - Just feel it is the right thing.
  • 22% - Religious reasons.
  • 19% - Academic reasons.
  • 12% - Child had trouble in public school.
  • 04% - Secular reasons.
  • 01% - Medical reasons.
NOTE: This counters the standard assumption that most homeschoolers do so for religious reasons - 78% of those answering this poll teach their own children at home for other than religious reasons.

Q: The media think homeschoolers have above average income.
Where do you really fit?

(of 386 respondents)

  • 11% - $10,000 - $20,000/year
  • 18% - $20,000 - $30,000/year
  • 20% - $30,000 - $40,000/year
  • 15% - $40,000 - $50,000/year
  • 13% - $50,000 - $60,000/year
  • 23% - more than $60,000/year
NOTE: With 49% of respondants living on under $40,000.oo, it is hard to uphold an argument that insists we are all 'well-off'. Only 23% are earning over $60,000.oo.

Q: How many children are you homeschooling?
(of 539 respondents)

  • 17% - Only one! An only child.
  • 08% - Only one! The rest go to public school.
  • 33% - 2.
  • 17% - 3.
  • 13% - 4 or more.
  • 12% - None, yet! But Thinking about it.
NOTE: 25% of respondents have a one-to-one student-teacher ratio! 67% are schooling three or fewer children for a ratio of 3-to-1 or better. 12% are looking into the possibility (some even before they have their children!).

Q: What style of homeschooling do you use most? ?
(of 246 respondents)

  • 07% - Umbrella School/School at Home
  • 18% - Packaged Curriculum/School at Home
  • 43% - Eclectic Curriculum/School at Home
  • 18% - No Curriculum/Relaxed Homeschooling
  • 10% - No Curriculum/Unschooling
  • 04% - Other
NOTE: Only 25% of those responding are using commercial pre-set curriculums. 43% are using some varied combination of the vast and diverse resources available, and 28% utilize little or no structure at all. -I've no clue what the other 4% are doing, but hey - it's probably pretty interesting!

Q: Have you seen a big difference in your homeschooled child?
(of 319 respondents)

  • 22% - Yes, improved academically over PS.
  • 16% - Yes, improved attitude over PS.
  • 39% - Yes, better attitude AND academically.
  • 10% - Yes, better attitude compared to peers.
  • 06% - Yes, better learning compared to peers.
  • 07% - No, behavior and learning no different.
The first two answers are those who have taken their child out of an institutional school. The third answer is those who felt *both* criteria were better. The fourth and fifth are those who have homeschooled all along. The last is those who felt *both* criteria showed no improvement.

NOTE: 39% said they see both better attitude and academic results in their homeschooled children compared to peers and/or the institutional schooled situation. A full 93% said that they had definitely noted improvement. 65% said they saw better attitudes in their homeschooled child than in peers and/or the institutional schooled situation. 67% said that they had noted academic improvement over peers and/or the institutional schooled situation. Only 7% said they had noted no improvement at all.

Q: Have you found homeschooling to benefit your family?
(of 485 respondents)

  • 34% - Yes, we are closer than ever!
  • 11% - Yes, less school related stress.
  • 05% - Yes, the kids are happier.
  • 45% - Yes, all of the above!
  • 02% - No, my kids hate it!
  • 03% - No, I hate it!
NOTE: Fully 95% of those responding to this poll said "Yes!". 5% noted that at least their kids were happier. 11% found at least some stress relief, while 34% said that they at least found their family social ties to be stonger. 45% felt that they had all those things going for them. Only 5% found homeschooling not helpful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: Getting Out There

Today we are "getting out there" to the county fair so dd7 can enter her 4-H displays. She joined 4-H mostly as an opportunity to make friends, but it hasn't been such a successful venue for that, mostly because meetings are structured around club business without much time for socializing. "Getting out" has one of two purposes -- relational or educational. It's ideal when then two overlap and mesh. We've had some great educational outings this past year...wild days on the prairie, the aviation museum, the zoo, the history museum. The relational thing though, has been difficult. In our old home, we got together with other homeschoolers every week, plus there were friends in the neighborhood and friends at church. So dd was used to a fairly high level of social contact -- not lots of friends, but a few friends she saw frequently. But this past year we moved, and in our new town, try as we might, we find ourselves more isolated. We've participated in two different homeschool groups, but we have to drive an hour and a half to get to either of them, so that limits our involvement. We've gone to the park and the pool, but all the children seemed to be either preschoolers or teenagers. Where were all the school-age children? Then we passed the schoolyard. It was full of kids. Oh. That's where they are. They're all in the school's summer day camp.

In spite of discouragement, I'm still determined to be proactive. So we're hosting a Not-Back-To-School Social for the area homeschoolers, whom we haven't seen all summer.

And we're not entirely friendless. The kids have found a few neighborhood and church friends, good kids from good families that I consider quality friends. And it's time for two important life lessons: learning the difference between acquaintances and real friends, and finding that your siblings can be your best friends.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Back to Homeschool Week: How We Homeschool

Montessori preschool:
When my oldest children were three and four years old, I began learning about Montessori education and making and creating Montessori materials became quite a hobby. I used to stress and obsess, trying to be a Montessori purist, but now, with my third child, I find that Montessori teaching comes more easily and naturally to me and incorporates quite seamlessly into the rest of our homeschooling -- now that I am NOT trying to adhere rigidly to Montessori ideals. My dream was that my youngest would occupy herself with Montessori activities while I worked with my older ones on their lessons; sometimes that happens, sometimes not. But I find if I put in one or two ten-minute sessions of working with my littlest one each day, she is much more likely to involve herself with the materials independently (sometimes even at a time that is convenient for me!)

Montessori strove to make her schools more like a home than a school, and much of the work done by the children, especially the youngest ones, is "Practical Life" and "Care of the Environment" -- washing hands, dressing themselves, dusting, mopping, sweeping, polishing, folding, washing dishes, preparing food. So much of this is naturally a part of living at home with young children anyway, but the Montessori way of following a child's interest, breaking down a task into its parts, demonstrating slowly and with few words, and observing the child's progress, are incredibly effective and take only a few minutes to do while caring for your child or when he "helps" with chores.

Practical life is the foundation of Montessori education. Following that, works which focus on a specific tasks can be prepared and set out on a tray for the child to use. These are fun to make and can usually be put together using household or dollar store items. Examples might be transferring objects using a spoon, tongs, or tweezers, pouring, sorting, and sequencing. Many of these exercises are "Sensorial", that is they develop the use of the senses and the act of evaluating, naming, and classifying information received through the senses. (And if you've read Rand or Aristotle, it makes perfect sense why this would form the basis of a young child's education. I actually read Montessori first, then got very excited as I began to dabble in philosophy and found these same ideas.) My older children still fondly remember our Montessori trays, and are delighted now to revisit them and show their little sister how to do them.

Every Montessori activity is intended to foster self-direction, independence, concentration, precision, carrying out tasks in sequence, and small and large motor control. Tasks always move from simple to complex, and from concrete to abstract. Beauty, simplicity, and order are of essence in the "prepared environment" -- which is essentially an environment with work prepared and ready for the child to do when he is ready for it, and child friendly tools and work spaces at hand. In a classroom this means everything is available on low shelves at all times, everything is child sized, and nothing is off limits. At home, this is utterly impractical, but I have found that just having a few, rotating work choices available on shelves, and a few other mom-supervised activities prepared and at hand, as well as including my wee one in chores and giving her "jobs" to do is all that is needed to keep her busy and actively learning and working.
Several Montessori games have become a permanent part of our homeschool. One is the Silence Game. The children try to sit as perfectly quietly and motionlessly as they can until they hear me whisper their names one by one. The period of silence is gradually lengthened over the months and years, from less than a minute to several minutes as the children gain self-control. Another game we enjoy is the Birthday Game. On his birthday, a candle is lighted, which represents the sun. Then the birthday child carries a small globe around the candle once for each year, representing how many times the earth has travelled around the sun in his lifetime. Our older ones still ask for this game on their birthdays! Walking on the Line is yet another game --it's just what it sounds like, walking toe to heel on a line drawn on the ground. Montessori invented it after observing how children do this anyway!

From Practical Life and Sensorial works, we move to Math and Language activities. Maria Montessori was herself an excellent mathematician, and the math materials she designed are excellent. In fact, many of the math programs used by homeschoolers -- such as Schiller and Right Start -- are Montessori based. However, I have made most of our math materials inexpensively -- and gained a better understanding of math myself in the process. We are still using our Montessori math and geography materials on through the elementary years.
In future I'll be posting photos and instructions of how we've made and used Montessori lessons and materials for anyone interested.

Reading Reflex: I used the Montessori language works --sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, "I Spy" game, and pink-blue-and-green cards -- up to a point. But then we found ourselves stuck. Montessori's reading system probably works well for Italian, her native language, but leaves something to be desired in English. Reading Reflex by Carmen McGuiness filled in the holes for me. My older children are very proficient, happy readers. I've written more about Reading Reflex in this post.

Classical content: A classical education was my husband's idea. I am eternally grateful that he insisted on this. Our children thrive on it and are challenged, and it gives me structure and direction. The three stages of the trivium follow and nurture the natural pattern of human cognitive development. I follow the four-year cycle outlined in The Well-Trained Mind, with history forming the spine our our studies.

Independent work: A friend of mine who is a veteran homeschooler and is mom to six makes a weekly list for each of her children with tasks (schoolwork and chores) which must be accomplished and checked off during the week. I tried this out with my own children and found that, with a little coaching ("Good, you finished that one. Check it off and see what's next...") they quickly learned to work independently with their list as a guide. At this point, they each have about 1/2 to 1 hour's worth of independent work each day -- Bible/Bible story reading, reviewing catechism, math practice, typing practice, coloring and mapwork for history, and some additional reading.

Charlotte Mason:

narration:This has been such a useful tool for developing attention to detail, memory, and verbal expression (as if my little yappers needed help with verbal expression!)

copywork: I have actually struggled with copywork, how much to expect (especially when my children were just beginning to write), figuring out how to do it, and being prepared for it. Lindafay's blog has been helpful in this area, and I feel like we're finally getting the hang of it. However, for awhile this year we did some formal spelling study, and this made a big difference in the kids' spelling (and they loved it and begged for more -- my kids just seem to really like formal academic work) so we may go back to that. Getty Dubay handwriting books are also my favorites.

nature study: Can you believe I was stressed out by nature study? I couldn't plan for it, and I didn't feel knowledgeable enough to just let it happen. Wild Days by Karen Skidmore Radcliffe made it doable -- it is one of my favorite homeschooling books. I try to do two "wild days" per month, but if we find something interesting in the backyard -- which we do with ever increasing frequency as our habit of observation has increased-- I've learned to say, "Go get your nature notebooks!" We focus on nature study when it's nice outside, and save hands-on "hard science" for long, dark winter days when everyone has cabin fever anyway.

short lessons: Even though my dc often beg to go on, keeping lessons short keeps everyone interested. And, true to Montessori's principles, the children practice, internalize, and extend what they've learned through our lessons together in their play and free time. We spend 2-3 hours per day on formal studies.

arts, crafts and handwork: I don't do this during our "formal" lessons, but keep things ready to pull out on a rainy (or snowy) day. We've been enjoying Winky Cherry's sewing books, Drawing with Children, watercolor painting, origami, calligraphy, and nature crafts.

year-round schooling: Since our state has a "teaching time" requirement, I opted for keeping up our homeschooling year round, in order to (more or less) accomplish that and still maintain a relaxed pace. It also allows us to take a break when we feel we need it, and prevents end-of-summer boredom.

music: My dh and I have eclectic musical tastes, so there is always a variety of music playing in our home, from classical to liturgical to folk rock to ...some of dh's more extreme tastes. I have taught my children Suzuki violin, but we need to be more dedicated to that. The children have taught themselves recorder from a book pretty much independently after a brief introduction by me. Learning hymns and chants by heart has been a big part of family catechesis -- chanting has the bonus of being an excellent introduction to singing and ear training. And we keep meaning to get back to Mrs. Stewart's Piano Lessons.

languages: Dh and I both have language majors and post-graduate linguistics training, so we are language oriented as a family. The children have worked their way through the Hey Andrew! Level 2 Greek book; Dad is going to take over teaching that next year, now that they have a handle on the alphabet and a little vocabulary. Both children also expressed a desire to learn Spanish, so dh ordered the Pimsleur Spanish course. I was dubious since this is an audio course for adults, but the 30-minute lessons are perfect for kids too -- no reading or writing involved.

using the computer as a tool: I keep the computer stocked with a limited choice of educational games: typing, math, spelling, geography, and chess are the current ones. Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- And What We Can Do About It by Jane Healy really opened my eyes about how to make the best choices for educational computer use.

He Puts His Name on Us

22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, 24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 27 "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them."
Numbers 6:22-27
The Aaronic blessing concludes the liturgy of the church -- and it is not just a ritualistic goodbye, but a sacramental act. The Divine Name is actually being placed upon the people of God -- recalling baptism, when we were first signed with the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It it the triune name, indicated by the threefold repetition: the LORD bless you...the LORD make his face to shine upon you...the LORD lift up his countenance upon you..." When the pastor, acting in the name of Christ, puts God's Name on the people, He will -- and does --bless us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Why? ...Why Not?

I really cannot remember a time, at least from the time I got married and had any conscious thought of having a family of my own, that I was not planning to homeschool. It was more like an intuitive decision, a natural action. So to delineate my reasons for doing so is actually quite an exercise.

Still, once we hit that first challenging year of formal homeschooling, I found I needed to be able to remind myself "why" I was doing this thing. And this year, when we moved to a small town, with few if any other homeschoolers around, where community life centers around the schools, where we were not only the new kids in town but the oddballs as well, I found I needed to really spell out, for myself, why I homeschool.

It all seems like one reason in my own mind:

Family unity. Raising our young Christians in keeping with their baptisms. An integrated life. A meaty education. Learning to think. Learning right and wrong, rather than how to follow the crowd. Real history instead of "social studies". "Sex education". The precedence of the family over the state. Really belonging to an organic whole instead of being lost in the herd. Making sure my children go out into the world as adults, not as large children. Imparting practical skills, not just head knowledge. Sharing a way of life. Restoring what is broken in the modern world.

It's Back-to-Homeschool Week

Randi at I Have to Say... is hosting Back-to-Homeschool Week:

Next week, here on my blog, I will be hosting "Back to Homeschool Week". There is a topic for each day and my hope is that my fellow homeschoolers here in the blogosphere will participate by posting their own experiences on their blogs. This is the time of the year that our thoughts begin to turn towards curriculum, planning and scheduling, and I thought that gathering together to encourage one another would be beneficial all of us.

Join in the fun! I'll be posting my thoughts on the daily topics here. (Oh goody! I loove essay questions!)

Sunday, July 29, 2007


It is a good thing to find blobs of toothpaste in the children's bathroom sink. It means they are brushing their teeth.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Year 3

NT Catechesis w/Dad
Memory work
read Exodus & Matthew
The Story of Icons
Icon coloring book set

Math & Logic:
Developmental Math workbooks
Montessori math lessons: multiplication, division, fractions, decimals
Memorization of multiplication and division facts
(on the link, scroll down to "The First Year Student and Math Facts")
Mind Benders A1
FamilyMath & Let's Play Math activities
Mathematicians are People Too Vol. 1
Mathmagic (Childcraft)
Math for Smarty Pants
On Beyond a Million: An Amazing Math Journey
Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales
Anno's Magic Multiplying Jar
The Story of Clocks and Calendars: Marking a Millenium

copywork: copying own narrations which mom writes out
Getty Dubay handwriting book C or D
English for the Thoughtful Child
Greek: study of John
Typing with Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor
memory work: selected poems & psalms, the Gettysburg Address, the Preamble to the Constitution, Chief Joseph's speech

History: Early Modern
Spine: Story of the World vol. 3 & activity book
Usborne Book of World History
Squanto's Journey
Pilgrims First Thanksgiving
Buttons for General Washington
Louis Braille, the Boy Who Invented Books for the Blind
America's Paul Revere
Naya Nuki: Shoshone Girl Who Ran
Seaman: The Dog Who Travelled with Lewis and Clark
Tree in the Trail
Great Speeches of Native Americans
Trail of Tears
Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
Ben and Me
American Adventures: True Stories from America's Past
Phoebe the Spy
The Double Life of Pocahontas
Betsy Maestro American History series
Shh! We're Writing the Constitution!
The Birchbark House
How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark

Montessori puzzle maps
Montessori pin maps
State by State

Science: Chemistry & nature study

nature notebooking
4-H projects
Handbook of Nature Study
Burgess Bird Book
Learning the Birds podcast
A Drop of Water
Fizz, Bubble and Flash: Element Explorations & Atom Adventures
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon


Favorite Poems Old and New
Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare, 6 stories
A Treasury of North American Folktales
Kildee House
The Wheel on the School
The Sign of the Beaver
Caddie Woodlawn
The Prince and the Pauper
The Incredible Journey
Little Lord Fauntleroy
The Courage of Sarah Noble
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Art, Music, & Handwork:
Suzuki violin
Recorder using Recorder Fun!
My First Patchwork Book
My First Machine Sewing Book
origami projects from Easy Origami
nature crafts from Nature Smart
Native American crafts: moccasins, beadwork, pine needle baskets
Hymns: 1 per month
continue observation drawing using Drawing for Children
Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered
picture study of 6 artists
music appreciation 6 composers

Most of the books are on Amazon in a listmania list here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


That's right. The almost-eight-year-old is bored. I informed her that this is the normal condition of being almost eight, and that it will likely pass once she actually turns eight. But I am confused. This is one of two imaginative, resourceful children who are adept at entertaining themselves, spending hours painting with watercolors, reading (very challenging) books, writing, pretending, playing chess and Clue and card games, and begging to be allowed to help with the cooking. Today this very same bored child spent a long, peaceful morning looking at a book of string figures and figuring out how to do them.

I am also chagrined. Because this bored child is asking to go to public school, thinking that it will alleviate her boredom. But in his essay Against School, John Taylor Gatto writes:
School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

What is happening here? I thought we were already doing this. Shall I utter the lament of Everyparent: "Oh-where-did-I-go-wrong?"
Or is it Gatto that is wrong, about school being the source of boredom?
But Gatto goes on :
Who, then, is to blame?

We all are. My grandfather taught me that. One afternoon when I was seven I complained to him of boredom, and he batted me hard on the head. He told me that I was never to use that term in his presence again, that if I was bored it was my fault and no one else's. The obligation to amuse and instruct myself was entirely my own, and people who didn't know that were childish people, to be avoided if possible. Certainty not to be trusted. That episode cured me of boredom forever, and here and there over the years I was able to pass on the lesson to some remarkable student.
This is, in essence, what I tell my daughter. Boredom is the product of the undisciplined mind and body, not of environment.

But I also investigate further. What activity or benefit is she expecting school to provide? Why, specifically, does she think school will solve her boredom problem?

Her younger brother is ahead of her in math, she tells me, and she feels bad about this. This is true. Actually, they are at about the same level. She is doing perfectly well with math, but he is a year and a half younger, and has a knack for math. "The way to get better at math," I point out, "is to work on it more. Do you want to work more on math?"

"Yes," she says. "I want to work on it every day!" She goes on to tell me that public school kids work six hours each day instead of two or three, so they must be learning more. I point out that that is not necessarily true, since she knows as much as, if not more than, schooled children her age. Learning only happens if interest an attention are there, which is why we get more done in less time at home. "Do you really want to have someone else do your thinking for you and tell you what to do with your time?" I ask. "That is what your six hour public school day would be like."

"Yes," she replied, "sort of. Sometimes I don't know what to do." The answer is dawning on me. Her request for public school is a request for more structure, more direction, more responsibility, and more challenge. I think of what would have been expected of a seven or eight year old child 100 or even 200 years ago -- perhaps not so much academically, but several hours of home and farm chores and learning practical skills like sewing and knitting. A girl of eight in those days was halfway to adulthood; it was time for intensive training in the complex tasks of running a home. I think back over the past few days: happy, smoothly-flowing days. I had assigned her more tasks than usual: baking something without my assistance, entertaining her little sister, mopping the floor, writing her 4-H story. She is asking for more of this sort of day: guided days, so she can move into more complex projects, greater responsibility, and a larger sphere of independence. I run this idea by her. Yes, she says, that's what she wants. More projects. And more jobs.

As homeschoolers we often argue, along with authors like the late Raymond Moore and Charlotte Mason, that we want to allow our children to have a childhood, to not push their learning, to not hurry them to grow up too soon. We want to give them the gift of time, to look at the clouds, to dig in the sand, to think for themselves and discover their own interests. So, then, isn't it paradoxical that John Gatto also resonants with us when he says:
Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do.
Are we talking out of both sides of our mouths here? I don't think so. Our culture does force children to grow up too quickly...and at the same time it inhibits maturation, pushing the age of adulthood back farther and farther. Perhaps it is that we foist upon children the problems and privileges of adulthood without establishing a foundation of responsibility, identity, belonging, and order. Or perhaps it's that we give them breadth without depth, as Dana has been pondering. I'd like to hear from others -- what do you think?

At any rate, with my "bored" child, I am reminded that "giving the gift of time" and "letting them follow their interests" doesn't mean doing nothing or giving no direction. Instead of leaving her so many free hours to play -- she has matured beyond that -- I need to revisit the Moore formula, and make sure she has a sufficient dose of study, service, and work.

You Call Me 'Good'...

Did Jesus come to teach us to be good people?
Well, that depends on how you want to read the Bible. We can read the Bible, beginning to end, as a book of rules telling us what will make God happy, what we have to do, and then go out and try to do it. We may make an admirable try. Yet we know that, without exception, we will fail. Not only will we fail to do what is right before God, we will actually break his law and make him angry. Then what? If we don’t manage to follow that old saw, “What Would Jesus Do?” every minute of every hour of ever day, what good does it do us? None. Yet we can’t do it perfectly. Nobody ever has.

So where should our focus lie? What did Jesus come to teach us? He wasn’t crucified for what he said about how to live a good life. The Pharisees were all in favor of rules. They were angered, and plotted against him, and crucified him, because of what he said about Himself. “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the bread of heaven.” “If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you do not have life in you.” When they asked him clearly if he was the Son of the living God, he said that he was, and that they would see him coming in power. And see him come in power they did– as he went to the cross, and paid the price for all our falling short.

Did Jesus come to teach us to be good people? No. He came to teach us that we cannot be good people, but that he, the only Good Person, would pay the price for our not being good, and give his goodness to us so that we could stand beside him, without fear– so that we could see God. Any teacher who says that the core of the Christian faith is “How to be good people” has entirely missed the point. Any church that makes our goodness the center of their preaching is not a church of Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ has gathered us on the foundation of his goodness, not our own. He laid down his life to buy us, poor miserable sinners that we are. That is how we read the Bible– the whole Bible– as the story of God’s love for us, which led him to give his life for people that would never be good without him.

82nd Carnival of Homeschooling up at Tami's Blog. Check it out!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Story of Christianity

Church history has become an area of passionate interest for me in the past couple of years, so among the books currently on my bedside table is The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez. It is a general overview of church history, and I have been working my way through it slowly over the past eight months -- I'm sure it's going to take me at least another eight months to finish it, since I have barely reached the Middle Ages. (It's not dense reading at all; I just don't have lots of time to devote to it, and I am trying to fully process what I am reading as I go along.) Gonzalez is a Methodist, and although his Methodism peeks out in corners, it is so far an engaging read without too much bias. The is my first chronological jaunt through the entire history of the Christian faith. I'm learning a lot and thinking about a lot, so I thought I'd begin posting my thoughts on this reading as I go along -- they will have the tag "the story of Christianity."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Abortion and the Weight of Glory

Marcy at Marcy's Musings wrote recently about The New View of Abortion . This "new view" is embodied in Dr. George Tiller "the Killer" of Wichita KS. Tiller is the medical director of Women's Health Care Services, an abortion clinic specializing in late-term procedures.

Tiller's clinic is unique in that, rather than trying to persuade women that what they are disposing of is not human -- a difficult case to make for a late term abortion -- women are offered grief counseling, photos, memorabilia, funerary services, and "spiritual care" (more here) -- including baptism of their aborted infants. (Yeah, that makes sense: kill them and then baptize them.) Indeed, in the counseling process, patients are shown photos and given information about fetal development. They are also informed of their rights according to Kansas law. It's all very clean and above board.

The "chaplaincy" page on Dr. Tiller's website states that "abortion is acceptable in ten of the world's religions and in Christianity many denominations affirm and uphold the right of a woman to make the choice of abortion." Sorry, Dr. Tiller, but right and wrong is not determined by consensus of the world's religions. And within the Christian church, abortion has been soundly and universally condemned by the historic church from its inception, in every century but our own.

The pro-life movement has won a victory. The ignorance --willful or genuine-- of the mainstream "it isn't human; it isn't a baby" argument is crumbling under the tread of thousands of "tiny feet". But in its stead, an uglier and deeper evil has reared its head: rather than kill believing -- or persuading ourselves -- that we are simply removing unwanted tissue, now we kill what we acknowledge to be human, premeditated murder in full flower, and then desecrate the comfort of heaven and the sacrament of baptism by using them not to comfort the repentant, but to assuage the consciences of the guilty. "Your child is going to a better place. He won't suffer anymore." God be praised for His infinite mercy that that is true -- for the babies.

But the power of baptism resides in the death of Christ and in the Divine Name of the Triune God -- so the second commandment is broken as well as the fifth. Luther's Small Catechism defines the second commandment in this way: "We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use Satanic arts, lie or deceive by His Name, but call upon it in every trouble (including an unwanted pregnancy or a terminally handicapped child), pray, praise, and give thanks." Thus the new abortion is infinitely more harmful to the souls of the women involved than the former, as if the whole thing weren't both damning and damnable to begin with. There is no love in that. Tiller's baptisms belie him; they have nothing to do with the concern for the souls of babies, because he cares nothing for the souls of women -- the body, the opportunities and comforts of the world, maybe, but not the soul. And so the demon has returned, found his house swept clean, and has brought seven of his fellows, so that the latter state of the man -- and society -- is worse than the first.

Dr. Tiller, I am ashamed to say, is a Lutheran. He is even an elder in his church, but it is a liberal church in a liberal synod which has drifted far astray from the Lutheran Confessions. He ought to be excommunicated, according to the Scriptures, according to the canons of the ancient church, according to Luther. Instead he enjoys the protection and blessing of his church. Two theological errors are at the root of George Tiller's twisted humanitarianism: Gospel without Law, and the theology of glory. It is the Law in all its harshness which gives the Gospel its sweetness. When the Gospel is preached without the Law, Christ's death is an atonement for nothing, and grace is cheap -- "There is no right or wrong, just what's right for you." But what does Jesus say? He who is forgiven much, loves much. When we lessen the seriousness of sin and the weight of its penalty, we lessen love.

The Theology of Glory is any theology which attempts to sidestep the cross and its sufferings. It is best illustrated by the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, when Satan tempts Jesus to bypass the cross by using His divine power to establish his Kingdom. Tiller presents himself as a Christian humanitarian because he performs late-term abortion on babies which have terminal genetic conditions. This is one of the two circumstances in which late -term (post-viable) abortions are permitted under Kansas law. Examples include spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, and fatal dwarfism. Isn't it the duty of doctors, especially Christian doctors, to end suffering? Yes, it is right to alleviate suffering, but within the bounds of God's Law. And yes, it is the duty of doctors to save life, but not to decide when it should end.

Aren't these children going to die anyway -- why should they be allowed to suffer pain and difficulty, when death will take them to heaven and ultimate healing? This is where the theology of glory really causes us to stumble. Suffering came into the world as the result of sin. But in taking up the suffering of the cross, Jesus Christ absorbed it into Himself and transformed it. When we suffer as Christians, we suffer with Christ, and if we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him. This is the theology of the Cross, which stands in opposition to the theology of glory. Christ Himself suffers not only for us, but in us and with us. In our suffering we are united with Him in His suffering; His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

We cannot eliminate suffering by eliminating the sufferers. In this life God calls upon us to suffer, even little babies, who are made in His image, who share fully in the condition of humanity, and who participate fully in the riches of God's grace through baptism. Some of us suffer much, some of us little, and those of us who suffer little are called to serve those who suffer much, and to take up their burdens. We'd like to spare those children their time of pain, spare their families the emotional agony of caring for them, and the overwhelming expense of paying for that care. But we must do so unselfishly, by not sparing ourselves the spiritual burden of crying with them and praying for them, the temporal burden of providing respite for their families, and the financial burden of giving up our movies and our eating out to share in the medical expenses. If we really believed in eternal life, rather than hastening little ones on to glory through murderous means, we would recognize, as St. Paul teaches us, that our sufferings here are small in comparison to the incomparable weight of glory which will be ours in heaven.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thoughts on Modesty

A few months ago, when my husband was out of town, I indulged myself and stayed up all night on the internet surfing and following whatever bunny trails interested me. I started out shopping for long flowery skirts (which are not as easy to find as you'd think!), but what resulted was an all-night research on the topic of modesty.

It may seem odd to start out a post on the subject of modesty with a discussion of nudism, but bear with me! Yes, there really is a philosophical rationale behind social nudism (note: this Wikipedia article does include photos) and it is exactly the opposite of a perverse voyeurism/exhibitionism. Social nudists (no, I'm not one) maintain that clothes are an elitist expression of rank and power; they speak of the "textile world" in which people use clothing as a power tool to assert their status, wealth, knowledge, and sexuality and to present an (often false and pretentious) image of themselves to society.

This is an anthropological certainty and an important point in any discussion of modesty. Every culture uses clothing, and decoration, to communicate something to others. Often that something is false, pretentious, and power-driven. But because sin is in the heart, simply removing our clothes doesn't remove the problem.

Social nudists also base their ideology in respect and acceptance of the normal, natural human body, in the face of a culture which programs the mind and the eyes with images of impossibly perfect, over-sexualized bodies. This is truly a problem in our culture, and it is important to recognize that modesty is not the same as embarrassment. It is evidenced in our double standard for women of different ages and physiques. A curvaceous teenager wears something tight or revealing and receives compliments and catcalls. An older or overweight woman dons the same outfit, and passersby are appalled at her "lack of shame" -- not meaning that she ought to have a sense of modesty, but that she ought to be embarrassed about her unattractive body and cover it up. This inversion of values also becomes evident in American attitudes toward breastfeeding: a woman can wear a tight, sexy blouse with a plunging neckline and bare midriff that amounts to little more than a bra and no one blinks, but discreetly lift a modest top to breastfeed a baby in public, and you might find yourself the object of the anger, embarrassment, derision, or even legal actions of those around you.

Another assertion of social nudists is that nudity is not in and of itself sexual. Among some native cultures such as the Hawaiians, nudity is (or was) the norm. When Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii in the early 19th century, one of the first cultural changes they introduced among converts was the mu'umu'u. To their great surprise, instead of increasing modesty and chastity, the exact opposite ensued. The men, accustomed to seeing bare female bodies, found themselves inflamed with lustful curiosity upon being confronted with so much mystery.

Which bring me to this: modesty is a universal social more. Every culture, even those which to our western eyes are completely naked, have rules or customs of modesty. Amazon tribal mothers teach their daughters to squat with their knees together. Fathers teach their sons to tie their male members up into a vine belt worn around the waist.

Though modesty is a universal ideal, its cultural delineations are not. Googling modesty took me far and wide, from Christian sites, to funky swimwear, to conservative Jewish instructions on how to tie a head scarf (I want one of these!), to high fashion Muslim styles. Everyone has a different idea about which body parts must be covered. Jewish customs define the torso as upper arms to the elbows, thighs to the knee, and chest to the collarbone, all of which must be covered, as well as every bit of head hair (no curls peeking out!). Serbian Orthodox cover the neck as well as the head and wear socks. Fundamentalist Christians do not uncover the thigh. This Catholic author express the concept well:
Modesty, however, can vary from place to place and time to time. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, modesty concerns four areas of human behavior,

First, "the movement of the mind towards some excellence, and this is moderated by "humility." The second is the desire of things pertaining to knowledge, and this is moderated by "studiousness" which is opposed to curiosity. The third regards bodily movements and actions, which require to be done becomingly and honestly, whether we act seriously or in play. The fourth regards outward show, for instance in dress and the like" [ST II-II q160, a2].

Dress, external behavior, mannerisms, etc. are signs of the person, and become so in the cultural context in which the person lives, and in which it indicates something to others. The Christian conforms to the culture in such matters, unless sin is intrinsically involved (clothing which will have the general effect to tempt the opposite sex). Modesty is humility in dress and mannerisms, an outward sign of the disposition of the inner man. By not standing out the Christian assumes a humble posture toward his neighbors.

Head Coverings in Church, Colin Donovan STL

He rightly points out that modesty has a larger definition, encompassing much more than sexual mores. Modesty is a humble attitude before God and others, a desire to decrease that Christ may increase, self-restraint in all things. St. Paul illustrates this by vivid contrast between outward ostentation of wealth and beauty, and inward meekness and quietness. Donovan's article goes on to argue that head coverings are neither obligatory nor meaningful in our current cultural context. His argument falls flat, however, when he tries to use 1 Cor. 11:16 to support his point that head coverings are a merely cultural expression. An interesting and well-reasoned counterpoint can be found at Fisheaters.

Three points in all my researches interested me most. First, a comment by a fundamentalist Baptist about why clothing with a crotch is inappropriate for women: she points out that crotched clothing draws attention to the crotch area, while a skirt or dress draws attention to the face. When I looked at traditional women's clothing from many cultures, there was one commonality: the crotch area is covered. If pants are part of the costume, as with the Pakistani salwar kameez (which looks deliciously comfortable) a long tunic top covers the crotch area.

Second, the use of head coverings during worship has been a consistent custom among Christian women of every stripe (including us Lutherans) up until the 1960s -- it has been the norm in every generation but my own, as demonstrated by this telling pictorial history.

Third, the Greek word in 1 Timothy 2:9 katastole refers specifically to loose, flowing clothing, like a robe. It doesn't necessarily imply that only skirts or dresses should be worn, but that clothing should obscure the curves of a woman's body. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago at a public park where a pentecostal group was having an outdoor service. One of the young ladies definately stood out from the crowd in a pretty blouse, a long lacy head scarf...and a long black skirt that hugged every inch of her lower body. There are a million little ways to flaunt the external rules of modesty, because true modesty is an attitude of the heart, born of love for neighbor and a recognition of our place before God.

Now, does anyone know where to buy long flowery skirts?!

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...make Limoncello!

This is a delightful traditional Italian lemon liqueur that is sweet, refreshing, intensely colorful, and easy to make. Check out the recipe and try it yourself!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Christmas in July

And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for
. . .

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with the single Truth compare—
That God was Man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

--Christmas, John Betjeman

John Betjeman was the most popular British poet of the twentieth century. Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984, he won the affection of the British middle classes, and his books were bestsellers at a time when poetry had generally ceased to sell.

The Wood Between the Worlds

In Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto writes:
One thing I do know though: most of us who've had a taste of loving families, even a little taste, want our kids to be part of one. One other thing I know, is that eventually you have to come to be a part of a place, part of its hills and streets and waters and people -- or you will live a very, very sorry life as an exile forever. Discovering meaning for yourself, as well as discovering satisfying purpose for yourself, is a big part of education is. How this can be done by locking children away from the world is beyond me.
Some people think homeschoolers are depriving their children by locking them away from the "real world." They would probably agree with Gatto's statement if they didn't know its context. Homeschool families find this a very strange and incomprehensible point of view. In fact, we tend to think exactly the opposite -- as Gatto is actually asserting, that it is institutional schooling which locks children away from the world.

What is really at odds is not so much the definition of schooling, but the definition of home. Home in our modern society has been deconstructed into little more than a way-station, a place to sleep and eat (and not always even to eat!) and watch TV and store your stuff before you go out into the real world and live your real life. Home is a Wood between the Worlds:

"No, I don't believe this Wood is a world at all. I think it's just sort of an in-between place."
Polly looked puzzled
"Don't you see?" said Digory. "No, do listen. Think of our tunnel under the slates at home. It isn't a room in any of the houses. In a way it isn't part of any of the houses. But once you're in the tunnel, you can go along it and come out in any of the houses along the row. Mightn't this wood be the same? -- a place that isn't in any of the worlds, but once you've found that place you can get into them all. "
"Well, even if you can --" began Polly, but Digory went on as if he hadn't heard her.
"And of course that explains everything,' he said. "That is why it is so quiet and sleepy here. Nothing ever happens here."
---C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

Nothing ever happens at home.
How can children grow up if they are trapped in such a nowhere place all day every day?

One of the essential elements of homeschooling, as a movement, as a philosophy, is the reconstruction of home and family life, of home as the hub, home as the place where the most significant interactions take place, home as the place around which the activities of life revolve. I have yet to meet a homeschooler, fundamentalist, atheist, or other, who doesn't seem to have at heart a profound concern for the restoration of genuine family and community life.

It isn't in any of the worlds, but once you've found that place, you can get into them all. After all, isn't a Wood-between-the-Worlds exactly the right place for children with magic rings?

On War

"You've gotta learn that you can't shoot at people without letting them shoot at you."
--Aidan, age 6

Saturday, July 7, 2007

In Reality...

I've got a post in my drafts that I've been working on for awhile (and will continue to work on for awhile) about why I'm Lutheran -- the "why" being mainly the Sacraments. I have long desired to spell out my reasons in detail for my confused family and friends, and I am better able to do that in writing better than in conversation. In the meantime, Rebellious Pastor's Wife discusses with a Baptist how baptism now saves you also (1 Peter 3:21)

The title of her post calls to mind one of the turning points for my husband and I in our conversion. The footnote to 1 Peter 3:21 in the NIV Study Bible begins, "In reality..." and goes on to explain how "baptism now saves you" doesn't really mean that baptism saves you. How can you begin a study bible footnote with "in reality"? It belies a fundamental lack of faith in the words of Scripture, as if the Apostle Peter were a bit mistaken about reality and needs the commentator to help him out. That was when the scales began to fall away from our eyes. As evangelical protestants, we claimed to possess the highest view of Scripture, taking the words on the page at face value. But -- in reality -- we were reading our theological presuppositions into the text.

Presuppositions like: baptism is a human work. Human works cannot save. Therefore, baptism cannot save. So, almost unconsciously, we read "baptism" as "the spiritual reality that baptism symbolizes" -- or even "spiritual baptism".

But St. Peter, far from being out of touch with reality, goes on to clarify: "not as a removal of dirt from the body" (because he is talking about an actual physical washing with real water, he specifies that its effect is not ritual outward cleanliness) "but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience" (the remission of sin and guilt). How can water do such great things? "...through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him."

First Butterfly

Today the first of the swallowtails emerged from its pupa in our butterfly house:

We set him free in the back yard this afternoon. He fluttered across the lawn and visited two rosebushes before leaving the yard for the big world beyond. You can see one other pupa on the back wall in the photo. We still have plenty of big fat caterpillars devouring dill and parsley and pooping at an astonishing rate. (I had never really considered the scatological implications of keeping the Very Hungry Caterpillar in a small enclosed space!)

By the way, we ended up building a very different butterfly house from the one pictured in my previous post. This one is made from a cardboard box, with pieces of fiberglass screen taped into place over the windows. (The instructions can be found in Nature Smart by Gwen Diehn.)

One thing that I haven't been doing that I need to start doing is lining the bottom with paper towels so that the poop (frass) doesn't build up, creating a moldy environment. I keep their greens in a small vase, narrow necked to prevent any caterpillars falling into the water. A second vase is handy for replenishing the dill/parsley every few days. I take out the old vase full of greens, caterpillars and all and set it on the kitchen counter. I prepare a fresh bouquet in the second vase, then I carefully transfer any stems with caterpillars on them to the new food supply. (It's important to move the caterpillars by cutting off the stem or leaf they are standing on and carrying that. Pulling them off the branch with your fingers can tear off their prolegs, the false legs at the back of the caterpillar's body used for gripping and climbing.) Then the old vase is washed out and ready for the next feeding.