Tuesday, November 29, 2005
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ....
(Christina Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst)
When I was younger, I wondered why we celebrate Christ's coming in the bleak mid-winter, when anybody who reads the Scriptures carefully figures that He really was born sometime in the spring. Sometime at any rate which was warm enough for shepherds to be keeping flocks out on the hills. And then I began to reflect upon what else was going on in the world, when the Church began to observe Christmas.
Christians found themselves working towards a new culture in the midst of their pagan kingdoms. Kingdoms and cultures which every mid-winter held religious festivals honoring the sun as a god. Winter was then a time of real fear. Would the days continue to grow shorter? Would light and warmth never return? Would the Sun-God abandon them to darkness and death? The winter solstice observances were attempts to appease the Sun-God, to entice him to return. It was an attempt to ensure that the cycle of seasons would continue. The best that could be hoped was that the wheel would turn once more.
The Christian celebration of Christmas at this time rather than at some other was a bold, immediate, emotionally-satisfying declaration that the power of darkness has been broken forever. Christ, the Light of the world, has come and will come again. This is no thin hope that the wheel might grind on. The hopeless treadmill of time has been given an end and a purpose. History is no longer a meaningless succession of events and interchangeable characters. Christ is the Lord of Years, the Potentate of Time.
He is re-writing history, giving it His meaning. He is re-writing my history. In the bleak mid-winter.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Hymns and psalms have, from time out of mind, been a source of strength and solace to God's people. They model for us the attitudes that please Him, both in adversity and in triumph. They take our minds off of the gravitational well of Self. They teach us to pray.
It is a great poverty that our generation knows only the Top-Ten Christian radio hits of the moment. I have rarely found even a whole day's worth of those to be as nourishing as a single psalm.
Thanksgiving and Advent are a wonderful time to recover some sense of what we have lost, by revisiting an old American custom: the Psalm-Sing. We discovered this custom when we lived in the Washington, DC area and had friends in a church which sings nothing but psalms in worship. Whatever you think of that practice, we found that it makes amazing musicians of ordinary folk. They could sightread chorales in four-part harmony without accompaniment!
But a psalm-sing is simple to host.
In keeping with a theme of recovering our spiritual heritage, invite everyone to bring to bring potluck dishes that have been in their families for a generation or more - and bring the recipes to swap as well.
Have on hand a goodly supply of hymnals, psalters (psalms set to music), and/or psalter-hymnals. Our absolute favorite is Cantus Christi. It begins with a section which offers most of the psalms set to the most beautiful music from across the centuries, continues with an incredibly sumptuous selection of hymns both ancient and modern, and finishes up with service music (music that allows a congregation to sing the elements of worship: gathering, confession, prayer, thanksgiving, etc.) to die for. Follow this link to hear some of this heavenly music.
Invite some instrumentalists. While folks who are used to singing the psalms can sightread just about anything with no more support than a pitchpipe, most of the rest of us have never developed this ability. Don't despair! Just invite a pianist.
Start in the mid- to late-afternoon. At our psalm-sing, my husband kicks things off by piping in the hymnals. Sing a while. Feast. And sing some more. Our voices usually give out around 8 or 9pm. But everyone goes home joyfully filled, body and soul.
Friday, November 25, 2005
The day opened with coffee and hymn-singing. I love waking the children by playing hymns on the piano until everyone has gathered with a glass of throat-waking tea or juice to fit together a three-part harmony. Of course yesterday I waited until almost 10am to become the alarm clock.
Then a leisurely brunch and conversation. The sunroom was filled with the golden Rocky Mountain morning, and the talk turned from literary discussions to news analysis to holiday hospitality planning. The menu was the brainchild of Petra, who innovated by pairing the Curried Fruit we usually serve with ham for dinner, with Sausage-Scrambled Eggs and a glorious crisp German Pancake (which we stuffed with the fruit).
Yes, gentle readers, the recipe:
6 c. sliced peaches, drained (or 3c. peaches and 3c. apricots)
3 c. sliced pears, drained
2 c. pineapple chunks, drained
1 c. craisins
1/4 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
2 tsp. curry powder
1 c. pecans, chopped & toasted
Preheat oven to 325F. Pat fruit dry. Arrange in oven-proof casserole. In another dish, melt together butter, brown sugar and curry. Spoon over the fruits. Bake 1 hr. Sprinkle nuts over the fruit just before serving.
3 eggs (2 will do in a pinch)
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Liberally oil an oven-proof skillet. Preheat oven to 450F. Beat eggs until foamy. Add everything else and beat smooth. Pour into skillet. Bake 20 min. Reduce heat to 350F. Prick the bubbles that rise in the center of the pancake. Bake 10 min. more. The pancake will rise up the sides of the skillet to form a crisp, golden brown bowl. Fill with fruit of your choice for brunch or dessert.
The family humored me by posing for hours for a family portrait. It ended up being great entertainment trying for a shot in which everybody looked normal at the same time AND the camera on delayed exposure cooperated by leaving everybody all body parts. Then we treated ourselves to long Skype conversations with as many of our long-distance friends and family as we knew would be home. There was time for naps and sketching and reading aloud together. We snacked on Chloe's luscious savory shortbreads: Blue Cheese & Chive and Cajun Cheddar, and Petra's Mulled Cider.
Dinner was late and was an immediate-family affair, so the menu was pretty scaled-back:
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Well, it's about time. Wouldn't you like to be able to thank the bloggers who contribute inspiration, beauty, encouragement or just plain entertainment to your life? Sallie of Two Talent Living has come up with a blogging award for women, the Blogs of Beauty Award. Her aim is to encourage articulate women.
Blogs of Beauty Award categories are:
Best Biblical Exhortation
Does the best job of bringing biblical truth and exhorting others to walk closely with the Lord Jesus. (Blog does not have to be exclusively a theological blog.)
Best Design - Contemporary
The most beautiful blog of a contemporary design.
Best Design - Traditional
The most beautiful blog of a non-contemporary design.
Has the best discussions in the comments sections.
Has the most encouraging blog content.
Has the best content regarding frugality. (Blog does not have to be exclusively about frugality).
Has the best content regarding homemaking. (Blog does not have to be exclusively about homemaking.)
Has the best content regarding homeschooling. (Blog does not have to be exclusively about homeschooling.)
Has the best humor.
Best Meet for a Mocha
The blogger you have never met and would most like to meet in person for a mocha.
Has the best content about being a mommy. (Blog does not have to be exclusively about motherhood.)
Best Quiet Spirit
Demonstrates a beautiful, quiet spirit through her blog entries.
Has the best recipes. (Blog does not have to be exclusively about cooking.)
Has the most enjoyable variety of content.
Nominations are open until Tuesday, November 29 at 8:00pm EST. Visit Sallie's uplifting blog to nominate your favorite feminine blogger(s)- and a good read! Sallie plans to publish a list of winners which links to those blogs, so that you, gentle reader, will have some good holiday reading!
Just around the corner, Spunky at Spunky Homeschooler, has also designed a blog award for homeschoolers. Her categories?
Best Homeschooling Mom Blog
Best Homeschooling Dad Blog
Best Homeschooling Family blog
Best Homeschooling Teen blog
Best Informational Homeschool blog
Best Inspirational Homeschool blog
Best Homeschooling Humor blog
Best Team / Group Homeschool Blog
Best Homeschool Curriculum / Business Blog
Best Homeschool Blog Design.
Best Canadian Homeschool Blog
Best International Homeschool Blog
Spunky is still accepting ideas for categories, and will open nominations soon. I'll keep you posted.
I will be giving thanks this season, not only for the mercies of the Lord, but also for the people by whom those mercies come - among them some bloggers. I expect to be introduced to a whole list of engaging, delightful blogs. More cause for thanksgiving!
Monday, November 21, 2005
We have always been a clannish lot. I suppose it is the heritage of those generations of pioneers who even into the 1930's were setting out in extended families to carve a home out of hitherto wild and uninhabitable places, expecting to support and depend on one another to survive. We have not been able, in the uninhabitable wilds of urban America, to shake that expectation. But sometimes we wonder whether we'll survive each other. Take Thanksgiving Day...
We had gathered in all our extented glory the night before at the Montana home of the clan patriarch - Great Grandparents to newborns. Breakfast was a hubbub of hungry tots and pre-adolescent wanna-be chefs. My sleepy and distractible Grandmother was methodically toasting frozen waffles. Impatient of the creaky toaster, I efficiently popped a whole trayful of waffles in the broiler and turned to urgent matters of justice concerning too few warm waffles among so many little mouths.
No one liked the squeal of the nervy smoke alarm, protesting mother's bacon frying. Roger, my sister's husband, cheerfully disarmed it. By then the entire clan had crowded into the kitchen, pouring coffee and hoping for a stack of the bacon-crowned waffles the Grandmothers were turning out so enticingly.
"What's this?" blustered my Granddad, indicating the blue tendrils of what could only be smoke vining up the wall from the broiler. Roger jerked the oven open. It belched smoke and flame like a dragon with indigestion. He quickly closed it again. "I'll just turn off the gas. It'll burn itself out in a minute," he chirped.
A shocked hush fell in response to this bit of cheerful denial.
It was my mess..."Stand back!" I said, laying about me with towels and potholders, "I'll take 'em outside!"
Impressed, the wide-eyed children pressed back into their chairs from which they had an excellent view of the dragon. The grown-ups in disarray were equally unwilling to miss the spectacle.
I, with burning eyes and wild hair illuminated by towering flames, swung around narrowly missing my startled Granddad. "Move!" I shouted in terror of the shimmering waffles. He scrambled backward, treading Roger's toes, bouncing off the packed wall of onlookers. But wherever he turned, there I was with those hellfire waffles, bellowing, "Move! Move! Move!"
I was enjoying the fresh air and the satisfying sizzle as the offending pan sank slowly into the snowbank, when I heard my husband quieting the children, "Tend to your breakfast, now. It's not like you've never seen flaming waffles before."
Not to be outdone, Roger quipped, "Hey, Liz, do you think you could make us some of those Billings Waffles Flambe when we get home?"
Unhappily, my thrill-a-minute brother, Jim had missed the waffle excitement, so he determined to make his own by offering rides in his new business helicopter. We soared above the spectacular rims and rivers of the Billings environs. Four-year-old Winston excitedly found the toy-sized train huffing by below. Piloting, Jim turned to check everyone's seatbelts with what, I realized a moment later, was a mischievous gleam in his eye.
He slanted the copter over the rims in a gravity-enhanced dive that trailed delighted shreiks and whoops of laughter. Grinning Winston declared, "That was better than a BIG rollicoaster!"
Walking back to the car, Liz and I exchanged opinions about our rides. "Care for a toffee?" I inquired by the way. She turned a polite shade of green. "No, thanks," she hesitated delicately. "You remember the part where Jim plunged over the cliffs?" I nodded helpfully. "Well, as we went down, my waffles... rose to the occasion... I think I said something like 'Gack' or 'Urg'. I hoped nobody noticed, but then I realized that with those hearing-protector earphones and mikes, I had broadcast it through the entire helicoper!" I patted her sympathetically as she paused uncomfortably. "Whatever you do," she groaned, "don't tell Jim!"
Thanksgiving Day turned out to be one of those magical days that have room in them for all the lovely things you hoped would fit. The children made cornhusk pilgrims with Liz, and illustrated books of their thank-you notes for each family at my kitchen table scriptorium. We feasted on turkey and old stories. The daddies did the dishes in gratitude to the cooks.
In the evening, we gathered by the light of glowing harvest hymns to tell what God had taught us to be grateful for in what we had never thought to be able to give thanks. Youngest to oldest, four generations unfolded treasures of God's graciousness. And as Granddad prayed over each family, pouring comfort and strength over the broken, sore, unfinished places of our lives, I hoped I wouldn't survive this bunch.
November 30, 1996
Friday, November 18, 2005
My world literature students are studying satire. Sometimes, though, the news couldn't be more howlingly absurd if Jonathan Swift himself were writing it. Take those Islamic youth in France, rioting, killing, burning, and generally terrorizing all and sundry...all to prove to a skeptical French public that they (the youth afore-mentioned) aren't terrorists.
These young people may feel that they are in the vanguard of a cutting-edge movement to highlight the plight of poor immigrant Muslims in France. But rioting in the streets as a means of redressing percieved wrongs has a tradition in France, going right back to the Terror. It's so 200 years ago.
Everybody's doing it. Unhappy with something in your life? Find somebody to blame, and torch something. Hardly a radical response. Ho hum!
No one can deny the reality of oppression in the modern world. Much of it is based on ethnic and religious hatred. But taking to the streets with death and destruction in mind will never change the hearts and minds of the oppressors; nor will it heal the wounds of the oppressed.
In the same week that the French riot story broke, there was another story that broke with little fanfare. But it was a truly radical response to oppression.
A Palestinian 12-year-old was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, who mistook his toy gun for a real one. Ahmed Ismail Khatib might have become one more statistic in the long and bloody history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, one more flash-point for internecine retaliations. But Ahmed's parents chose instead to make their son's death a seed of healing They donated his organs for transplant. And not to just any transplant recipients. No. Six Israelis now have a new start in life because Ahmed is dead.
But is he really? I think not. His legacy of love, bold love, sacrificial love will live on in those six Israelis. And it will be a seed of healing. You will not read about it much in the limelight. (Seeds sprout in the dark.)
Now THAT is radical!
Monday, November 07, 2005
Mother-Lode: What ambitions do you have beyond high school and what has most shaped those ambitions?
Melissa: First, I want to be a godly woman; second, if God wills, to be a godly wife and mother; third, to raise godly children. But you already knew that!
My two other main ambitions are 1) to teach a world-changer and 2) to write at least one really good book—one that challenges and informs and educates in a witty, pithy package.
My first goal has been shaped, in part, by the realization that I have a real gift for teaching. My ability to communicate well is an enhancement of that gift, but merely an add-on nonetheless. And since it has always been my goal to be the best at whatever I do, I started to think about what is the highest goal for a teacher. Sure, to be a good teacher is nice, and to be famous during my lifetime would be pleasant, but what would be the most effective thing I could do as a teacher? I could teach someone who took what they learned, left the cave, and civilized the world. That would be a worthwhile legacy indeed.
My second goal has been shaped by, unsurprisingly, reading great books and wanting to be like the authors. My hope for this future volume is that it would be something set on people’s shelves next to works by the Inklings, because the members of that fabled club have influenced my writing and thought life deeply. There are other writers I admire, but I really like the way Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and Charles Williams wrote, and I choose them (especially the first two) as my literary role models for their accessibility of style and mastery of English, and for the intellectual rigor of their content.
Mother-Lode: Do you plan to pursue higher education? Why or why not?
Melissa: Most definitely. My vision for the purpose of my college education was given to me when I was about 14 and Dr. Michael Farris spoke at our state homeschool convention. On the first day, he was given an hour and a half to plug the college he had just founded in Virginia: Patrick Henry College. Dr. Farris spoke of his goal to provide a college major that would prepare young women to be home schooling mothers, and about the classical liberal arts major that PHC would offer to fulfill the need he saw.
Since then, I have focused my quest for higher education on one idea—that my college education should train me to teach my own children. It’s really that simple. There is a world of knowledge out there that isn’t mine (yet!) that I want my children to have, but I can’t give it to them unless it is mine to begin with and I can’t lead them where I haven’t already seen the track. Hopefully, my education will give me a head-start on my children so that I don’t have to read the lessons the night before class until my children are mature enough to have patience with me.
To that end, I am hoping to attend New St. Andrew’s college in Moscow, Idaho beginning next fall. NSA is a trinitarian, reformed, classical college with one major: Classical Liberal Arts and Culture. When I looked at their course outline, I fell in love. They teach languages, rhetoric, and music (among other courses), and the capstone of the entire program is a two-year in-depth look at Thought and its expression in Western Civilization.
Mother-Lode: Do you feel a tension between the careerism that pursuing a college degree usually implies, and your desire to be a wife and mother?
Melissa: I do, especially when asked by well-meaning friends and co-workers “What do you plan to do with your degree?” They mean, of course, “What job will that screwy degree get you?” This is where I get to have fun messing with people’s minds. I start by saying that I want to be a teacher, and most people nod their heads and mumble something about ‘that doesn’t pay very well, but we need good teachers’; then I hit them with the punch line…my “job plan” is to teach/tutor from my home, so that I can work the schedule around my children and family life.
My own method of resolving that conflict, then, is to have a strict value hierarchy. When a “career” and my family are in conflict, my family will come first; nay, they must come first, for this is what I believe to the core of my soul. Still, denying career-ism does not mean that I shun the possibility of a long-term money-making endeavor (whether you call that a career or cottage industry or something else), especially before I am married. I relish the idea of providing extra income by doing something I love, and I believe that I should use God’s gifts both before and after marriage, both in raising my family and in single-mindedness.
Mother-Lode: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to decide whether to homeschool in high school?
Melissa: First, pray--earnestly seek to know what God’s will is for your family. Second, clarify your family’s vision for education. Why do you teach your children? What do you most want them to learn?
Third, inform yourself. Before you automatically reject or accept homeschooling through high school, find out what it involves in your area, what you will be able to do, and what you won’t be able to do. I know dozens of families in our area who put their children back in the government school system because they didn’t know about all the opportunities for their children as home schooled high schoolers. On the other hand, if you expect activities and programs as your entitlement and you want a traditional high school that is just set at home, you may want to ask yourself why your child isn’t at a private school or in the government system.
Of course, this is all directed at the family who is facing that sit-down discussion asking “Should we? Or shouldn’t we?” If you’re like my family was, secure in your calling as a homeschool family, don’t fret about homeschooling through high school. Ninth grade follows Eighth just like Third followed Second, and the process is still basically the same (or so my mom tells me); only the subject matter changes.
A fourth piece of advice comes to mind: don’t worry if your children will turn out “normal”…since when was that ever the idea?
Friday, November 04, 2005
Melissa is a high-school graduate, currently taking a gap year to save up for college so she won't go into debt. She was the third place value debater and first place debate speaker in the nation at the 2003 NCFCA national tournament. In the fall of 2003, Melissa was a Communicators For Christ intern, speaking and teaching at 12 conferences in 12 states. During her tenure with CFC, she co-wrote the first Value Debate track offered to beginning debaters. For three years, she has been a contributor to a nationally-recognized value debate textbook, Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Guidebook for Debating the (current Year) Value Topic, and has been a debate club organizer and tournament administrator. Melissa was the youngest member of the Executive Committee for Chaves County Republican Women, serving, at various times, as Newsletter and Legislative Alert committee chairs. Last year, Melissa interned at her state capitol, where she used her debate skills to aid statesmen who support homeschooling ( a rare breed in her liberal state). In August 2004, Melissa travelled to New York City as a page for the Republican National Convention. Ultimately, she aims much higher than politics; she plans on changing the world as a teacher, one child at a time.
Mother-Lode: How did your family decide to homeschool you through high school?
Melissa: I actually had to ask my mom about this one! From my perspective, there was never really any choice--I simply followed where my parents led, and eventually that meant homeschooling in high school.
Even my parents, though, never said to each other, "We're coming up on high school now...should we keep doing this or not?” The just continued their commitment to obey God’s call for our family, which meant homeschooling (unless otherwise forcefully notified from above).
Mother-Lode: Many outside the homeschool community assume that homeschoolers either have a very affluent background or an extremely limited background - possibly abusively so. What part has adversity played in shaping your character and education?
Melissa: My mother has for many years alternately battled, suffered under, and succumbed to a disease called Fibromyalgia. Simply, her body doesn’t repair itself at night from the stress of the day as efficiently or as well as yours and mine do. Instead, she wakes up every morning with the previous day's wear and tear already pulling on her joints and muscles, which means that most days she is either in serious pain or desperately tired.
This has forced my sister and I to learn a lot of character traits by necessity. Compassion, especially, is a character trait that I’m sure I would never have learned half as well if Mama hadn’t struggled so much. Independence, or Self-Reliance, is another character trait that I was taught very early because Mama simply couldn’t make breakfast every morning as soon as I woke up, or teach math when she had a migraine; ergo, I had to sink or swim very fast. Of course, I wasn’t abandoned without guidance, but I learned how to study on my own sooner than many of my friends.
Besides requiring a lot of independent study, Mama's Fibromyalgia meant that a great deal of my high school education was much more hands-on and practical education than most. My transcript includes several long “practica” on home management (basic repair, home economics, lawn maintenance, interior design, time management, etc.) that started as “just helping my mom” and developed over time into true courses.
There’s another important area where our family adversity has shaped my character—it’s brought me a lot closer to my dad that I would have been otherwise. In facing our family’s difficulty, and in working to keep the house running when mama wasn’t able to, we’ve learned (the hard way!) how to really communicate with each other. Through the really tough times a few years ago, Daddy was the one encouraging me, teaching me and guiding me through the process of keeping our house in order. I've learned to rely on him and trust him more than I would have if Mama had been able to run things all the time.
Mother-Lode: What projects in your high school career have seized your imagination?
Melissa: Teaching public speaking and debate to students and parents has been one of my biggest projects and my biggest loves in high school. I love simplifying the difficult concepts of academic debate and putting them in understandable terms, and I love encouraging students with feedback and critiques. I loved my five years of competition in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association, but this past year I was able to finally be on the side where my heart truly lies—coaching and helping run tournaments.
Now that I’ve graduated, and will probably be going off to college, I’d like to help other tournament administrators, especially new ones in states that are just beginning to have NCFCA competition, by sharing what I’ve learned behind the scenes at a large variety of tournaments. I’m not sure yet if it will be by writing a book or over the internet somehow (since I’ll be away at school), but I definitely want to stay involved with the NCFCA. I also want to do something along the same lines for value debate teachers and coaches—give them the support I never had as a “loner” in the debate world. The other project that I thoroughly enjoy is desktop publishing, especially layout and design work. Several years ago, I helped my parents edit/compile the handbook for our state convention, and discovered that I have fun making words look good on a page. Actually, I’m continually fascinated by all the capabilities of technology (not just professional-quality layout from a home PC), and one of my hobbies is to keep abreast of technological innovations.
To be continued...
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
November 1, All Saints' Day. Today is the day when Christians have traditionally remembered all the faithful who have gone before. It's a practice which most Protestants have relegated to the scrapheap of superstition. But reflection need not be superstition, and there is much we could learn by remembering and reflecting upon the lives and deeds of our spiritual fathers. Indeed, without thoughtful reflection, we live on their legacies like squatters rather than like sons.
Last week's San Antonio Christian Independent Film Festival was food for some of this inter-generational reflection.
When I was in college, my peers and I, like every young generation, wanted to change the world. We talked and prayed about taking over academia, achieving political influence, capturing the culture's imagination through the media, bringing down Communisim with the Gospel, and financing it all through our own private businesses. We haven't gotten very far.
Most of my generation had no desire to connect with those who had gone before, and to be fair, most of the previous generation had nothing much to pass on. As Francis Schaeffer put it, they were concerned chiefly with "personal peace and affluence". (Though my parents were an exception to the rule.) We had to learn to look farther back for shoulders on which to stand.
However, at the Film Festival, most of the filmmakers were my generation's children. And they were consciously standing on our shoulders, working to accomplish those things we had only dreamed and prayed. Probably the one thing my generation has been able to do, is to raise children on purpose, training them in the vision we have not been able to attain. But we have been able to give them shoulders on which to stand.