The sixth and seventh week in review

I was was told on Sunday  that I am a slack blogger,  but I’ve been out and about putting  a bit of spice in my life.    There was no time to write.   But I’m back and here’s  a little summary of where I’ve been and where we are now.

Monday was Valentine’s Day, but Jon and I enjoyed our celebration of that fun holiday  a week ahead of time.  We got away, just us two, and stayed in a lovely and luxurious hotel for five days.

Now,  I wonder if anyone  (outside my family)  can guess where the photos above and below were taken.   Really, no fair naming the place if you already know because I TOLD you.
Here are a few extra hints:   We enjoyed the most amazing Italian dinner just a few blocks north of this scenic parking lot, right after I watched my husband do some very enthusiastic gift shopping at a wonderful art shop on Sherman Street.

Notice how much these feather earrings look like the flies one might use to catch fish.   And since we have both a jewelry designer and several fly-tying fishermen living under our roof, we found this quite inspirational.

After dinner and a glass or two of wine, we popped in to Cabela’s Sporting goods store, which is  fly fisherman heaven  and which I’m now recommending as a  Valentine’s Day entertainment destination.
While there, we tried on some cool shades and some really bad hats, photographed their extensive collection of taxidermy,and checked out all their feathers which can be used to make fake insects OR lovely jewelry.    I suspect that we  almost bought a crazy expensive fly-fishing  reel, but I noticed we walked out empty handed.    Having fun with your husband in a hunting and fishing supply store is actually way more romantic than watching a sunset, by the way.   And it’s not nearly as time sensitive.

Besides goofing off in the fly-tying department , Jon and I met some really wonderful Christian physicians and their spouses on our trip.  We saw gorgeous scenery, enjoyed some delightful meals with very interesting people and we really had fun just being together without any interruption.  It’s kind of rare for us, and we were so glad for that little gift of time together.     It was lovely just to sit with my husband on an airplane and know that I was not responsible for six kids and their passports and the reservations and connections for the next 24 hours.  (One day I will write up a blog post about travelling with the kids, and without the husband,  to Europe last fall, and how much fun and how much stress came with that adventure.   But that’s another post.)

So we had this sweet getaway.   Meanwhile, the kids had an amazing opportunity to exhibit their maturity at home by  keeping everything in top condition, while loving the little ones and keeping up with that business of educating themselves.   They did a stellar job.   I am so thankful for them.   Again.
Daniel got a bit lonely for adult companionship one afternoon and  pulled a snowball ambush upon  our very kind neighbour, Charles, as he emerged from his car at the end of his workday.
Charles was nearly injured in the snowball fight which followed, and claims to be working out with weights  in preparation for our next trip out of town.  Otherwise, it all went well.  Or so they say.

We returned home at the end of last week and then everybody skiied on Monday, even Jon.  That was a special treat.   It was extra cold and icy, and the skiing was FAST, but it was a great day.   One of our favourite Valentine’s Days in a long long time.

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I believe  we’re now in  the second half of the seventh week of 2011.   And, as I had hoped, we are winding up week ten of Tapestry of Grace.  We aren’t on the official  (and very optimistic) schedule of the publisher, but we  are on schedule according to my plan so it’s all good as far as I can see.

We’re into the late 1920’s, financial crises, increasing turmoil in post-war Europe, getting ready for darker days ahead.

And I’m cramming extra large doses of grammar instruction down various gullets, as it has come to my attention  that a love of grammar in not innate for everyone, and none of my little darlings have inherited mine.  I thought my children would be born with a craving for  sentence diagramming.   Turns out they took after their dad on this one.   This will soon be remedied!

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And here, for a little artistic break, are some of Maggie’s projects from this morning.    First, a blackline drawing which she off-handedly describes as (from left to right)

This is the Dad, this is the little boy…….and this is the angry policeman.”

We wonder what the rest of the story is, but when I asked, she just flicked her wrist and went on to fill the next piece of blank paper.

Later, having grown weary of the simplicity of pen and ink,  she made some flowers to brighten our gray snowy world.   She had a little help from Audrey…….

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Meanwhile, the  sweater I am knitting for David has not been seen or heard of on this blog in a few weeks.  So, everybody asks,  what’s the deal with that?

First, I took a week away from working on it so that I could attend a class called ” Tips and Tricks for Finishing Your Knitted Garment.”    I signed up for this class because I was so nervous and unprepared for the job of putting this sweater together.
Last time I put a sweater together, it looked like it was  tailor made for a chimp with one arm five inches higher than the other.  Sadly, it was knitted in the most beautiful garnet mohair, so it was a tragically  freakish deformity knitted in elegant yarn.

For this “finishing” class, students were required to knit up several oddly shaped pieces, which we then brought to class and practiced our new finishing tricks on.
I was by far the least skilled knitter in the class of 15.  And, of course, I was closest to the instructor, so she was continually grabbing my work to show to the class.
The first time, she didn’t really check to see if it was done correctly before hoisting it aloft and saying “Let’s see how Missy did…”   She then looked closely at the knitted piece,  and then at me, and said “This is terrible!    Were you even listening to my instructions?”           ****Mortifying****
But, I learned it before the class was done, and now I can do it just like the rest of those ladies.

In that class,  we talked a fair bit about how and why a knitter might  decide if a piece of  work  has too many errors in it to be “wearable”.   So,  I came home and looked at David’s sweater, which consisted of the entire trunk up to the arm-pits, and the beginnings of both sleeves.    I started taking note of all the things I didn’t like about the way it was turning out.   And there were just too many little things that I was not happy with.
So…….  I pulled it off the needles.
And last Saturday, I started the whole thing over.

The new sweater is on the left, and I think the most important improvement in it is not photographable, and that is the texture and weight it now has.  It’s so much denser and more substantial.  So, I am really glad I went ahead and abandoned the old one and built it all new.  I don’t think I’ll be as reluctant to begin again in the future, if it looks like that’s the better option.

Here are both sweater attempts.
When Audrey saw what I was doing, she gave the most heartfelt groan of sympathy, which really made it all feel much less lonely and hopeless.   It’s always nice to have an empathetic friend!

In the new and improved sweater, I have used a long tail cast-on which has given the ribbing at the waist a much stronger and straighter edge.   I have also doubled the yarn, and am knitting two skeins together on size 9  needles (instead of one two ply strand on size 6 needles).   Now, it’s knitting up faster, thicker, more substantial, warmer, and the tweedy colors are blending better.  I love it now.   In five days, I have got as much sweater knitted up as I had previously done in six weeks.   So, I am now almost exactly where I was when I abandoned the first attempt.  Apparently, I’m  really slow to pick up new skills.    For me,  perseverance is the only way.

Now,  I’m using this little success story of mine with quite a heavy hand, as I encourage my young home-schooled writers not to fear having to write and re-write and then re-write  again until their work is of good quality.   Sometimes my “life lessons from knitting” really tax the patience of my family, I’m noticing.

I think that the next several weeks will be packed with school, dentists, music lessons, skiing, friends visiting every Friday, and a little bit of interior decorating.   Not very spicy, but all very nice.    It’s sometimes just good to be home.

I am not a Tiger Mom

I don’t know if there is anyone left in North America who’s not had quite enough of Amy Chua and her methods of producing brilliance in her children.    But in case any of you are late to join the party,

here again is that famous  bit of text from the  back cover  from the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:

“A  lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

CAU cover

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.”

Amy Chua with her daughters, Louisa and Sophia, at their home in New Haven, Conn.

CAU cover

These  standards by which Amy Chua claims that she and most Chinese parents raise their children sound like harsh torture to most North Americans.  Yet Chua’s children appear to  have grown up to be well adjusted and happy young women, and are remarkably accomplished and devoted to their family.
It leaves us scratching our heads.
We would have expected that those girls would be in weekly psychotherapy and to show all the signs of unchecked eating disorders.     You can see in the above photo that they look just fine.

The Wall Street Journal’s article discussing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was written under the very unfortunate title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”
It’s unfortunate they used such an inflammatory title   because all us American women are already insecure enough about our parenting skills and we are already second-guessing ourselves at nearly every turn.

Parents of home-schooled kids, privately educated kids, and the parents of public school kids are already looking askance at one another,  apparently feeling judged simply because someone else had openly chosen a path that another family intentionally rejected.
And the soccer/ hockey moms and the violin and harp crowd are looking down upon one another in derision, nevermind the “working mom” vs. “stay at home mom” rivalry which is still such a presence in the US.

We don’t much need another class distinction from which one pack of mothers can look condescendingly upon another.  But I think we have it.
Now the distinction   (not actually  new…. only newly defined)    is the one between the mothers who will stop at nothing to produce excellence in their children as opposed to the mothers who are content with mediocrity as long as home is a place of rest and peace.
And yes, I know this is a gross over generalization….but I’ve been raising kids for long enough to know that that is essentially where the boundaries lie.

The book has generated such a kerfuffle of controversy, which is great for sales.
And, being a consumer of the “herd” variety, I went to the bookstore to get a look at it on Saturday.

In the “Parenting Skills” section,  I found four copies of the book, and as I reached for one, a very attractive, fit, thirty-ish looking Chinese woman reached over my own hand and grabbed the other three copies.
She immediately started talking to me, and she was talking so fast I could hardly keep up.
She asked me if I had read it, and  told me she had read it a couple of times.
She also told me she has given copies of the book to all her friends, Chinese and otherwise.   And she was going to share the three in her hand  with three more co-workers.
She said that this book gives a perfectly accurate picture of life under the hand of a Chinese mother.
She told me she had given a copy of the book to her own mom, who read it and then called to say    “I was not that bad!”  But the daughter replied, laughing, “Mom, you were worse!”

She said all her Chinese friends were commonly called “garbage”  by their parents, and thought nothing of it.  And she was laughing at the idea that Westerers find the book so appalling.

This woman was such a wealth of insight to me, and she was so enthusiastic about my need to read the book that I bought the only copy she left behind.
And as I turned to leave she mentioned that she is a corporate lawyer and she has two young children who are violin prodigies.   She was still laughing.  And I believe every word she said.
Another Chinese lady I met in line told me that this book is not called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” in its Chinese translation.  Back in China it is simply called “Parenting in America”.   This can only mean that  to the Chinese mind,  there is no  kind of parenting other than the Tiger variety, so back in the motherland,  the thing that makes this book newsworthy is the fact that this uber-mothering is  happening in the  very  breadbasket of  unremarkable performers which is America.
(I should mention that I live in an area that is so thickly populated with Chinese immigrants that you can go to Costco on a Saturday and never once overhear a conversation in any language other than a Chinese dialect, even though the store is packed and everyone is talking at once.  I tried it once.   And the bookstore I went to on Saturday is right behind that Costco.)

My daughter Audrey and I have both read the book this week.  We were both amazed, amused and horrified by turns.   We have enjoyed it tremendously, and have recommended it so much that people are beginning  to avoid us.
But, much as I loved reading the book,  I am not at all a Tiger Mom.
I am more like a “house-cat mom.”   I like to play, I like to keep them close to me, cuddled up and warm by a fire.  I love having all my kids around me for book discussions and history talks and anything where we are all in a bit of a pile together.
But, I do also have claws, and I am not afraid to use them when people need to move faster, produce better or just generally knock of the foolishness.
I could not ever live in the atmosphere of fighting and anger that Amy Chua describes in her book.   I am convinced that that kind of  destructive sharpness can do damage that’s hard to repair,  and I don’t want that.   But I like to get good results, and I want my kids to respond the first time I ask them.   And I require that of them, and that’s a standard that seems high, to some.

My husband  has  high standards for our kids  which have helped me to raise the bar.   He might actually be a bit of a Tiger Dad.    He exhibits many of the rigorous demands that Chua describes as being the norm for first generation immigrants who have had to fight for a better life, and who know the odds their children face, and so make strong demands of them.
Jon came to the US with $100 in his pocket at age 18, then put himself through college and medical school.  He understands how hard they will have to  fight if they want to compete and  succeed.   Jon’s expectations from our kids have been greater than mine from the moment our first son was born.  I’m really thankful for him and for his standard.

And it turns out that I don’t want mediocrity either.  Mediocrity from my kids makes me kind of crazy.

I insist that I be able to speak to my kids  “straight”   and I expect them to be able to handle clear honest criticism which is given in love and without insult.   This is  what instruction is all about.  And if they can’t  receive instruction, they won’t get very far in life.    I really believe that it is poor parenting to continually coddle your kids and allow them to be hurt by constructive advice.   Don’t we all know adults who are handicapped by this, who cannot understand that their failure to advance is due directly to their inability to stand up straight and learn from those who could instruct them?

In many ways I admire Amy Chua’s attitude when she states that she requires that her children attain high standards because she respects them and knows that they are capable of achieving high standard.   She is right when she says that requiring little of our children is a way of telling them that we do not think very much of them.   Her assessment of Western parents who allow their children to attain to only the most mediocre standard  is that they are producing children who will have poor self esteem because they understand, at some level, that nobody expected much of them,  and that  must certainly indicate that they are incapable of very great achievements.
I also agree with her very much when she says that there is nothing that will produce a strong sense of confidence in anyone more than having achieved great things.     If pride follows that achievement, there is sin to be dealt with.   But the achievement itself is not sin.   Achievement is honor.

And even though I understand that the achievement of great things is not the goal of our existence, but serving God in humility and obedience is.  That service is to be of a very high quality.  If we do everything as unto the Lord, that’s a high standard.   If your boss is the Creator of the Universe, and you are keenly aware of who that actually is, you might not cut so many corners.  If our children see us, as Christian parents, as willing as Amy Chua and the mothers like her to make enormous sacrifices of our time and our lives in order to get them launched on the path that is right for them, they will be blessed by that.   I don’t believe that it’s enough for us to tell them “we did our best”……we have to do what is required in order to help them find a good footing.  And unlike Chua, we must do it without arguing and complaining.   That is hard work.  We need supernatural help for that.  And people will laugh at us and criticize us, and then we have to ignore that and keep marching forward.

She’s right that most American (and Canadian) parents coddle their kids and fail them when they don’t ask them to reach for a higher and more difficult standard.  And she’s also right when she implies  that it makes the North American peers of these children of Chinese immigrants easy prey, always second best, and eventually subordinate to an entire class of people.  She’s right about these things, and they are hard to swallow.

I do not think she’s right about the way of going about it.  Even though she has won a success of a certain kind, and a success that’s really rich and satisfying for her, it’s not the success I want for my kids.  I want successful kids, and I also want kids who know that arguing and fighting are destructive.   I don’t believe at all  that anger and screaming, insulting and depriving children is the only way to get great results from them.
In many ways, Amy Chua’s method is a much harder path than the one most parents take.
But I think that in comparison to what is best, anger and shouting is the easy path.

We all want our kids to go rampaging wildly down the path of excellence and accomplishment.
Every parent who has the future success of the kids in mind is puzzling out what will set them on that road.
Should  they do sports or music, lots of social stuff or very little, more parental supervision or less, Youth Group or not, organic or freedom of choice.  And we make a choice and then preach on it for awhile, mostly to convince ourselves through the sound of our own strident voice that we have made the best and only intelligent choice.

But I think that when we stop and make those decisions THE BIG ONES, maybe we are stopping short.   Maybe the really big decisions have to do with helping them to learn to understand what the best good standards are and why they matter.   Karate or Not Karate, Organic or Not Organic, Violin or Hockey are really the  minor choices.
The big choices for our kids, and the choices that should be dealt with in a thousand different discussions every week are the discussions about who they will serve as adults, and why will they serve that god or God, and how should they serve.  If they understand that they are serving something, and if they understand that every choice they make reveals who they are serving, they can then learn to be honest with themselves, because honest service will require honest self evaluation.   They can learn to ask questions which are harder than “which sport?”,  “which musical instrument?” or even “which university?”     And if they can learn to ask themselves really big and honest questions, they can then learn to see what the high standard is there for.  That the high standard is not there to torment them.   It’s there to help them by giving them a good path  they can follow.

I can see that I have given no good practical steps for parenting which will produce outrageous success in children.

But isn’t it true that if our kids grow up  loving  a high standard, and if they see that it is for their good, they will excel?
I can already hear somebody saying that it’s not reasonable to expect a seven year old to love a high standard…….but I say that’s not true.
I think that if we really do love them well, and we really train them well with patience and we are willing to sacrifice our time for our kids in training them , only training them in godliness rather than training them to be competitive and selfish, and if we pray for grace as each day unfolds, God is faithful and will help us to show them the way they should go.  And when they are old they will not depart from it.

Sanctity of Life Day

Yesterday, lots of churches in North America recognized “Sanctity of Life Sunday”, reminding us of the tragedies which have resulted from the western  world’s  access to “free, safe, legal abortion.”  And we need this reminder, and to rise to the tasks before us and fight it boldly.

But  what  I want to talk about is an entirely different kind of sanctity of life.  And that is  the sanctity of the lives of the elderly and infirm.    We heard a story yesterday about a man named Richard Rudd who was deemed brain-dead after a motorcycle accident, and whos doctors and even his own father believed should not be required to continue living in his vegetative state, until Richard indicated by eye movement that he was still able to think and communicate.  And so the decision to end his life was reversed, and he lives today, having surpassed all expectations for his recovery.   You may read the story there at the link.    His story may cause you to reconsider your opinions about who should be euthanized, and what is the best way for doctors to treat patients who appear to have slipped beyond the scope of rehabilitation.

In my own family, we have a story which is somewhat similar, and is very close to my heart.  (I want so much to say that our story is better actually, though I am sure the Rudd family would take issue.) Many people have heard some of this story, a few have heard it all.
It’s the story of my mother’s stroke, which occurred on March 3, 2007.  Actually, this is the story of how two grown children of a woman in a semi-vegetative state were faced with an agonizing decision concerning the life of their mother.     I’m going to write the whole long tale here today in honour of Sanctity of Life Day, and also in honour of National Heart and Stroke Month which is in February here in Canada, and also in honor of my Mom.

Almost four years ago, my Mom went to church looking elegant and polished as usual.     She visited around with all her many friends there after worship service.   And then, at a scheduled seminar organized by the ladies ministry at that church,  she gave a talk to a group of people who wished to offer care to elderly people.  Her talk was on the subject of how we can best serve home-bound members of the church and keep them feeling supported in their confinement.   I have the notes to her talk, which she  folded into her Bible when she was finished.

Afterward, driving home, she  failed to take  the right turn onto her street.   And a block further down the road, she careened over a median into a pharmacy parking lot.  She then walked into the store, where she was able to communicate to them that she was in trouble and that she would like her son to be called.  So those lovely people in that pharmacy in Arden, NC  called an ambulance and my brother………… and got her some good help.

My brother was with her for the next 48 hours….and then for days, watching her spiral down hill and loose herself, her personality, her ability to speak, to comprehend,  to move on the right side, and then to even respond at all.   When I arrived from Canada two days later, I found that my young 73 year old gregarious, fun, fashion savvy mother was in  an unresponsive vegetative state in the neuro-intensive care unit.  She who had always looked so cute, so together, so spunky, alert and involved in the world around her was lying on her side in a fetal position, looking older than her own mother had looked at the time of her death at age 91.

This happens to people all the time.  There comes a day when we lose our parents.  But my brother and sister and I were so completely taken by surprise.  I’m sure we appeared completely incompetent, and were the very image of the deer in the headlights.   The ironic thing here is that my husband is a stroke neurologist, he deals with families like ours every day.  We were living out an episode that he had done over and over again, only we were on the other side of the glass.
And  he had flown to Norway on the  day of Mom’s stroke……he was there celebrating his own mother’s 80th birthday.   I really wanted to get through our crisis without asking him to cut his trip short  and come rescue me.

In order to paint a clear picture of my own mental state, I  have to include here the fact that when Mom had her stroke, I had a six week old  daughter whom Mom had never seen, except in photographs.  I had a bit of a crazy, obsessive desire to somehow persuade my mother to open her eyes and see my  baby.   I was advised not to take that baby into the ICU, but I would smuggle her in under my coat.     Ever watchful for the nurses, I would then  set this eleven pound lump of perfection down on the bed in front of my mother’s closed eyes and whisper    “Mom, wake up and see what I brought.”   Sometimes I would just beg her to come back.    I was so afraid that she would never know her last grandchild.

And the docs, who wanted to be compassionate and helpful, told us that the best we could hope for was for Mom to be in a permanent semi-vegetative state.
She would never walk.
She would never know her family members.

And when Jon did arrive, he got a copy of Mom’s brain scans which showed a huge area of damage.   He was even more pessimistic than her doctors, at least from a medical standpoint.   The neurologist who was directing her care took me aside and suggested that I’d be wise to take her home, stop introducing food and water, call hospice for support, and give her plenty of morphine to keep her comfortable.  He said it would only take a week or so, and then she would pass away.   I think that I just expected Mom would die,  and I was incapable of lifting a finger to assist.   I did not want to be a part of helping her die.
But she had a living will, she had all the proper paperwork advising and allowing us to not pursue any means to unnaturally extend her life.   Both my brother and I were a bit lost for a while there.  In order to obey Mom’s wishes, and do what the doctors were recommending, we had to do something we really could not do.

For many of us, maybe for most of us, there will come a time in life when decisions have to be made for a parent or a spouse, maybe even for a child.   And nobody ever comes into this decision with a clear understanding of all the facts and how they may come together in a predictable outcome.  These moments are bewildering, and we cannot manage them alone.   But it is such a lonely experience.   There was something like a wind  howling through my mind, and for three weeks I could not see what the best step was.   My mom had a legal document all prepared, which left ample room for the decision to be made to stop feeding her.  She had stated that she did not want to be  left in a vegetative state.

There have been many many times in my life where I have felt that constant prayer was the only way to get through the day.   But in those weeks, I found that I would pray through the day, then through the night.  I could not sleep,  and the weight of the decision seemed so heavy, I don’t think I ever even lifted it.  I just sort of looked at it and said    “Lord, please carry that, because I can’t.”

My brother and I could not let the legal document or the doctors lead us, we had to  lean on Christ.   And He did really carry us.  There was amazing peace, comfort and grace because I believe God was waiting and ready and delighted to pour peace and grace on us…..and He always is  when we confess our sins, seek His face with all our hearts, and pray in humble reliance upon him, obeying Him in all that we know, and walking in his ways.  (2Ch 7:14, Jer. 29:13, Jas. 5:16, I Jn. 3:22).

None of us knows when these times might come.  We cannot be entirely prepared for every possible eventuality.  But I do think that we can be prepared to lean on Christ.  I think that if we build that habit into our lives when there is no trouble on the horizon, it is a sweet and comfortable, natural habit to release yourself into His good care when the difficulties are too great to bear.

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If you call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.    For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just  and protects the way of the faithful ones.        Proverbs 2:6-8

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From infancy you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.       2 Tim 3:15

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We prayed and didn’t sleep much and marched into the hospital every day like zombies, looking for something encouraging.
And she opened her eyes, but she didn’t know who we were.  We offered her food, but she could not swallow.  We tried to jar her memory, but she was blank.

Then one day, as I left the hospital after another day with my unresponsive mother who was drifting away, I realized in the parking lot that I had forgotten the diaper bag.  I send David, who was 12  at the time, up to grab it for me.

So David went, alone, onto the Neurology floor, to  his grandmother’s room.  He found her there with her eyes open.    And he spoke to her.  And she responded.
Minutes later,  he returned to me at the parking deck, all bubbly and full of good news.  He was  saying to me  that he had said to her, as he left, “Goodnight Dearie, I love you”  and that she had responded very hoarsely  “I love you, too.”

And did I say “Oh wonderful, so good to hear!”  ?

No, I’m ashamed to say that I doubted him.
I said “Please don’t give me false hopes….”  and I went to pieces right there in the parking lot.    I was praying for God to work, but when I heard good evidence that He was working, I didn’t believe it.   I could not accept it.

The same night, my brother looked at me with this intense look that only he can get, and announced…..it was like an announcement…….that he was going to pray for Mom to be brought to a full recovery.    And I looked at him and thought  to myself       “Oh, my, He does not understand.   He doesn’t get it.   How can I explain to him that he’s asking for something impossible.”     But I just said, “Oh, OK, that’s really bold.”   I admired his faith……but I thought he was naive.

But I was wrong.   Almost all of us were  wrong.  The doctors were all just so very, very wrong about my mother.    And I was wrong about my God.
My mother did recover.   She did fight her way out of that pit.  She learned to swallow again.  She  learned to sit up again.   She learned to walk, and to talk, and to take care of all her own personal needs as if nothing had happened.   She has even learned to read a bit again.  But it drives her bananas that she can’t drive anymore.   But she does fly Delta, and that’s how she comes to visit us.   And that is such a miracle!   Not only does she walk, she can fly.

God did heal my mother.   And I know that doesn’t happen in every case, and I cannot understand why we received so much grace and mercy in this situation.   But what a gift it has been to my family and my children and to me.

And here is one of my most delicious, most favourite photographs.   My mother and Maggie.    They are great friends now.   My mom says of Maggie “You know, she’s just like my mother…..”   and I almost burst with thankfulness that she can recognize that, because I know Mom is absolutely right.

And here is my mother on her 75th birthday, eighteen months after her stroke.   Isn’t she lovely!

Be well practiced in the habit of leaning on Christ.  These difficult days…..whether they are similar or different…..difficult days will come .    And the  God of Christ is eager to carry you.

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And just by the way, if anyone knocks on your door asking you to donate to the Heart and Stroke Association, I would say “Be generous!”   It’s a worthy cause.

the third week in review

Here are a few photos of life around here, mixed in with some things I found encouraging.  I put a photo of our dam up here last week , but I think it’s even more spectacular now.  It is a frozen waterfall.   It’s completely silent…….so different from itself  in just a few months!

We have been hard at work around here this week.    Everybody is almost caught up after our week of illness and the lack of leadership which occurred when I got sick.    I think that by next Friday we will certainly be back on schedule, barring unforeseen circs.

We have so much to be thankful for as we have very nearly gotten ourselves caught up to where we had hoped to be in history.   It always feels like the most preposterously undeserved gift when we are actually doing what my schedule says we should be doing.  I think this is because  I always find that  the making of the homeschool schedule is such a joyous delight, but the keeping of the schedule very nearly defeats me.   Reading in Proverbs 16 earlier this week ,  I got that same good reminder I have found before

“The plans of the heart belong to a man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.  Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

I think that that bit in the middle there about the ways of my heart being pure in my own eyes, but the Lord weighs my spirit could possibly be an indicator that my plans are not all righteous.  It brings it to mind that, unless I keep reminding myself to be careful, I tend to stack up the expectations I have for myself and my kids based upon what other people are doing and on pride.    It’s a common pit for us home-educating moms.  And once I have identified that pit which must be avoided, I have to also take care not to fall into the pit on the other side of the road.   That would be the pit of laziness and carelessness.

And that reminds me of a  really insightful post at Becky Pliego’s site which I found while rummaging around in the abundance of  wisdom on her blog.   This is a very helpful article for all of us with kids learning at home regarding the tendency we sometimes have to require less than the best from our kids.   And about the aroma in our homes we create through how we live and love and train and speak to our children.

I think that for me, the answer is still that I must get up and start my day with a good quiet time of more than an hour, get the chores started before the kids are awake, and pray over the plans of the day, asking God to help me to do those things that must be done and not be sidetracked by extraneous stuff.   I am a highly distractible woman, and it is essential that I pray for help in this area all through the day.

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Another really encouraging read is here, a free PDF of Leigh Bortins’ book Echo in Celebration:  A Call to Home-Centered Education. This link arrived in my mailbox from The Homeschooler’s Notebook , which sends out a neat and succinct little newsletter once a week, full of helpful links…something for just about everyone.

The PDF of Leigh Bortin’s book  is  relatively short   (OK, it’s short for a book, long for a download),
but it’s full of compelling arguments for Classical Home Education. She discussed the lifestyle of a home-educating family, and gives a clear picture of how vastly it differs from what we may have expected, or the life of our more traditionally educated friends and family.   It is such a radically different and beautiful life!   Our approach to all aspects of family life are unique and really precious to us as families. It’s comforting and inspiring to read her experiences of how her family arrived at their educational decisions, and what the results were for her own sons.

She gets right at the heart of the Classical model, and how to train your whole child and prepare them for a full life honouring God……not just to socialize them and get them ready for a job.

I have heard Leigh Bortins speak, and remember her as being warm and genuine, but also as a woman who commands respect, and would tend to lead people into good rigorous study.   This is an excellent read, and its FREE!

And here is a little taste of Leigh Bortins’ wisdom, this is a list which breaks down into quick points what our kids should be taught and when….I got this as a handout at her lecture, and then found that it is also included in the PDF on page 54-55.  For a family just starting out, this is a great little tool to help get your head organized around what should happen when.

Infant to 4 years of age 4 to 8 years of age

should be trained to obey their parents

 should memorize songs and stories

 should learn to be kind

Should be taught to clean a house

 should be taught to read phonetically

 should develop the  daily habit of studying math

9 to 12 years of age

should be trained to manage a household

should be trained to memorize lots of facts

 should be taught spelling and grammar rules of languages

 should be taught to write well-constructed sentences

 should be taught to write well-constructed paragraphs

13 to 14 years of age

should be trained in vocational skills

should be taught to write well-constructed paragraphs

 should be taught to write well-constructed essays

 should be taught to defend ideas

 should be taught public speaking

 should be taught  formal logic

 should be taught  research skills

15 to 18 years of age

 should be taught leadership

 should be taught to write comparative analysis of ideas

 should be taught to challenge ideas

Notice that there is no mention of history or science or subjects. Classical education is different from modern education. The classical model is skill-based, not merely subject-focused. Through the acquisition of grammar, the mental gymnastics of logical processes, and the art of communication, science students learn how to:

1. memorize, sort, and retrieve scientific facts

2. read science books (there is a specific way)

3. write about science (there are expected forms)

4. enter the Great Classical Conversations about the philosophies of science

5. manage technologies while studying creation

6. think about science, any science.

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We are also plugging away at memorizing the book of Philippians.  I got a bit bogged down again, having briefly been all caught up and feeling a bit smug maybe.  But as the volume of memorized material accumulates, so do the rich blessings, and I do find that memorizing and repeating these first 18 verses again and again does really refresh my mind, it helps me to reconsider how I am thinking about my brothers and sisters, how I view trials which seem to get in my way……I am to understand that all are given to me by the hand of God, all is for His glory, and my agenda is not the primary goal.  The goal is to bring glory to Christ, to abound in fruitfulness that points to its source in Him.

I’m memorizing using the schedule at This Link , and there is a very helpful method to help memorize using a moleskin notebook here.

I find that I memorize best by writing the passage over and over again, and by repeating it aloud to my kids as often as they will stop and allow me to.  They are remarkably patient with me, and will often try to out-do me, so it helps us all to commit it to memory better.

And here, from A Holy Experience, is a summary of Dr Andrew Davis’s Seven rules for Bible Memorization.   These are very good, and when it’s a whole book being memorized, I need all the help I can get!

Seven Ways of Highly Effective Bible Memorization*

1. Old before New

Always take the old paths. Begin each day by reviewing the memorized verses first before learning the next verse. The goal is retention not accumulation.

2. Rinse and Repeat

And again. The only way to retain learned verses is to review them again and again over an extended period of time. Everyday’s memorization rhythm: Rinse and repeat.

3. Location, Location, Location

Like the mantra in real estate is location, location, location, so it is for really remembering: memorize the location of each verse. Memorize each verse number and don’t skip it. This is paramount and makes it much easier to memorize long passages and not inadvertently skip verses when reciting whole chapters. Location!

4. Take a Mental Screen Shot

Use your mental point and shoot and take a brain “photograph” of the verse. Read each new verse several times, hiding one word at a time, burning each word into your mind like light onto film.

5. Preach it

To yourself. Speak your memory verses to yourself aloud. Preach it aloud to the soul that needs it the most — our own — and say each verse with emotion and feeling. Whispering it while driving, walking, working not only is an easy way of reviewing and memorizing, it’s fulfilling God’s call to meditate on His Word day and night. And saying each verse aloud is a way to work the words deep into our memory: His Words never return void.

6. Repeat it for 100

For 100 consecutive days repeat aloud your memory work — all the verses, or the chapter, or the whole book. This is painless and demands no extra time: do it first thing every morning while getting ready for the day — in the shower, getting dressed, making the bed etc. Repeat it for 100!

7. Sabbath Sanctuary to see the weeds

After your Repeat it for 100, take the last Sunday of every month and make a sabbath sanctuary to read through your memory work. This will help you to “see the weeds” — any mistakes that have crept into your recitation of longer projects/chapters/books. Soak in His Word on a Sabbath — pluck out some weeds. Commit your heart — and mind —- to Him again.

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Otherwise, we are enjoying the snow, and looking forward to spring. As the photos seem to indicate……And as for  the thermometer here below which reads -23C……this photo was taken because Helen-The-Ever-Cheerful walked past it and called out to us at breakfast “Oh, great, guys!  Look, it’s warming up!  We could all probably go down for a skate in a couple of hours.”

Happy Birthday to a Couple of Cool Chicks

Twice in my life, the sun has set on January 16 leaving me enormously pregnant with no sign of delivery…..and the same sun has risen the next morning,  finding me holding a  beautiful new daughter.   It happened once in 1996, and again in 2007.    I have talked about it here before…….(and if you click that link, you’ll see that snake photo Audrey wishes I would stop posting.)

So, tonight we will celebrate Maggie’s fourth birthday, and tomorrow we celebrate Audrey’s fifteenth.  They are such a joy to us all…..Happy Birthday girls!!!!!!

the second week in review

Here, again, is this wonderful passage from John Bunyan’s book  All Loves Excelling.

“The High God is yours;  the God that fills heaven and earth is yours;  the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is yours, yea, the God whose works are wonderful, and whose ways are past finding out, is yours!  Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that contend with you.     It is my support, it is my relief, it is my comfort in all my tribulations,  and I would have it be yours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof.”

This is an amazing concept.    It’s the most perfect antidote to discouragement.   It is so uplifting to consider that this great God is ours, and is our comfort.   Especially since our week here was not very inspirational or inspired.  But we were carried through and cared for through it all.  That is really marvellous!

This is how the outside world looked last time any of us were in it.     I love the look of the dam on our river  when it freezes.   I went for two very chilly three mile runs on Monday and Tuesday,  in temperatures which were something like -11C, and then, along with  my children, I fell ill.

It’s not surprising that our very satisfying start back to school last week…..complete with ball spike and victory dance by me…..was followed by a really mediocre week in which it has felt that we are marching through molasses.   This, thanks to a funky virus that is claiming us one by one and leaving us curled up under blankets and quilts on every sofa, chair, bed and even on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Not all of us have fallen, and the ones still on their feet have loved us and fed us, and kept things tidy and have kept morale up in something like a symphony of cheerful non-complaint.

Maggie has hardly shown any signs of illness, and has flitted from patient to patient wearing her Queen Elizabeth I dress.

Here she is , wearing her uniform, with a bit of war-paint fading from her cheeks, having just donated her mug of milk to good old Cinder.    Gross, but also sweet.    And it’s OK, she knows not to drink after the dog…..

She ministers to us by snuggling up close to her patient of choice, with the rustling crinolines and stiff collar standing tall.   Once she’s nestled in under the covers,  she  tells the most preposterous stories which include dragons, trips to Costco, a creature who creep into houses to steal ginger-ale, hairy spiders taking up residence in people’s noses, and squirrels in bathing suits.   And it’s really encouraging.   It reminds me that health is still close-by……so close I can almost touch it.   And then, later I find her sleeping, curled up like a pinto bean in front of the fireplace, exhausted by her efforts.

As I have said, we are neither inspired nor inspirational.   But we’re really thankful.   I am so very thankful for those blankets, chairs, beds and fireplace.  For Helen singing while she made breakfast for us all this morning.   For my sweet neighbour who just stopped by with a casserole.  For the good words of Philippians swirling around in my head, reminding me to remember my brothers with thankfulness and to look for how the grace of God is evident in their lives.    And for the blessing that comes to us as we remember to pray for one another.

We were all scheduled for the high entertainment of a debate session tonight, in which the three older kids had each taken a different stand on the topic of who should get the vote (as if it were the 1920’s).   One is arguing for an all white vote, another argues for black and white men voting, and another is taking the side of the women’s votes.    But two of my debaters are too dizzy to fight.

We had hoped to rocket  through the early 1920’s in history, and go straight for The Great Depression starting Monday.   Wonder if we can double up and cover all we missed next week and get back on schedule?    I’ll know in a week.

My older kids are doing two courses of Biology this year.  One is Apologia Biology, which seems to be a big favourite among home-schoolers.  The other course is a far more rigorous Biology with Microbiology which is being taught by their dad.   He usually brings them together for science class on Friday afternoon, and science class is always preceded by a day of jittery nervous energy, and three kids who have their heads buried in textbooks and computer screens in preparation.    I wonder if they will have class today……they don’t like to let Jon down, and it’s really beautiful to me to see them trying to rise to his expectations.

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I made a bit of progress on David’s sweater.   Here it is last week:

And here it is this week:

Here’s the original drawing, the plan for this sweater.   It’s silly, but I’m filling the drawing in with color as I get it knitted up.

the first week in review

The first week back to school, after any event, is always a challenge.  I think I’ve said that before.  And I have learned not to pin too many hopes on that first week.

So this week, we just aimed at getting everybody minimally back up to speed in math, science and grammar.   And I also planned on doing a whole lot of group discussion so we could all remember what it was we were studying in history  last month.
We all wanted to get started memorizing Philippians 1:1-6 together.
I had a pile of war poetry, written by WWI soldiers,  to read and discuss.
And I wanted to get everybody to work on  persuasive  essay projects that would sound enticing.
One of the kids is writing an essay trying to convince the president to join the League of Nations, another  is  writing a proposal to a friend to join her in a business venture, another is writing a paper to persuade her dad that  a vegetable garden would benefit his mental and physical health…..and Daniel is writing a paper about why Lego should be in the home (and all over the floor) of every 8yr old boy.    I’m leaving somebody out, but that happens all the time.

Persuasive essays are a great favorite.  For a brief moment, they are being told that it’s OK to smear their opinions all over somebody else……and that’s way more fun than writing a book report.

I was also hoping, just hoping, that after the disorganization of the past two weeks we could squeak everybody through piano lessons today without too much shame.  And they did it!    They surpassed all my expectations.    I nearly cried.

So,  Hallelujiah, We made it…..on all points.  This has not happened before, I’m sure.  I always fall flat this first week after the break, and it’s always a bit discouraging.  But not this time.
So, I’m pumped now.  I’m taking this as a sign.  We’re about to have a killer second half of the year.

And on top of all that, we got winter.      Here’s our street this afternoon.
And Maggie learned to ice-skate today.
We all went skiing Monday and we tried to teach Maggie to ski.  And that was a comedy show.   She went up the kiddie hill on the magic carpet, sobbing most of the way.  Then she cried in a howling sort of way,  all the way down the hill.  Three times.   Then she went back up for the fourth run, and when she got off the belt at the top, she amazed us all by reaching back, unfastening her  bindings, stepping out of  her skis and marching down the hill.
I gathered up the skis and followed her.
I wish I had a photo…..just try to imagine a three year old dressed up like a hot-pink astronaut stomping down a snowy hill, grim determination and hot chocolate  all over her face.

She can ski next year.   This year she’ll skate, and that’s enough for me.

Oh, and I even got David’s sweater started.   I have never actually made a sweater that  anyone would wear.   So far, I’m just good at flat items.    So here’s the ribbing for the waistband, and I’m working my way up.   I can tell you now that once I get to the arms, and have to actually attach those babies, I’m going to be melting in a pool of sweaty anxiety.   Knitting Drama.  Stay Tuned!

I made this book for Jon……

I have found that  in my marriage,  as the years have rolled on and Jon and I  have become a better unit with a clearer sense of purpose together and a keener sensation of having become “one” organism, I am very nearly overwhelmed at the prospect of how to express what he means to me in a wrapped  gift.

I cannot  any longer simply walk  into Best Buy and find “just the thing” for him.
And as I was knitting everybody else’s gifts, one might expect I would knit up something for him.
The trouble with that is that his dear mother, Elza, is among the most outrageously talented knitters on the planet.
She knits fabulous Norwegian sweaters in four or five colors, while watching television and chatting with guests, and jumping up from time to time to check on dinner.

Her work is always beautiful, and I cannot compete.

All this is meant to explain why  my gift to Jon was not a sweater, but this little book.

It’s a book of quotes and thoughts and ideas from books I have read over the past year and also from really great blogs and websites where Puritan passages are still alive and well, and sermons are recorded, and hymns are written up like poetry, and it’s all available for our great edification.
The idea for this project began last year as the kids and I were redoubling our efforts to keep our copy books more diligently.  I found that there were so many little passages and quotes and verses that Jon would have loved.

Then my good friend Jeanine mentioned that her pastor’s wife had made something similar, and she gave me some good ideas and encouragement.

So I started a book for him, with a date at the top of each page, going through the year, so that he has a page of something encouraging to read, to kick off his day at work, or maybe for a little moment with coffee later on.

Jon is faithful about always having an hour in scripture every morning at 5:30, and with that in mind, I used scripture for only about half the days in the book.

When I used scripture, I used Psalms, written in their entirety, long passages from Ephesians and Philippians, some pages are headed with topics like “Wisdom”  “Forgiveness”  “Grace” or “Speech”  and have verses which apply to these subjects.
The rest are full of the thoughts of people like Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, J.C Ryle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones,  John Flavel, Octavius Wnslow, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards…….and many more good theological thinkers.    I used ten or more of the poems from The Valley of Vision .

There are also days filled with quotes by Aristotle, Plato, EB White, Confucius, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Julia Child, Bill Cosby, Calvin and Hobbes, Andy Rooney, PG Wodehouse, and there is even a day (April Fools Day I think) which is dedicated to ridiculous statements made by Jennifer Lopez.

So, I believe that all bases are covered.

It’s not a beautiful book, not in a really artistic sense.  It’s full of quotations and wise words from other people, and there are only a handful of pages which I wrote entirely on my own.

I want to just say that the one who got the greatest gift here was not my sweet husband.  It was me.  During the year of writing this book, as we made some really hard decisions for our family, the daily work of putting this book together sometimes compelled me to look for wisdom and comfort for myself in the places that were hard for me and for us, and I found such great comfort in the scripture studied topically, in the wise words of puritans who had already thought through many of my questions, and in the words of the Valley of Vision and Spurgeon and Edwards especially.

Wives out there, here is a great project that will bless you richly, and hopefully it will bless your men as well.

But you better start it soon……a year is almost what it takes to do a nice job on a book like this.

Hand made Christmas

It’s almost New Years, and before I start talking about resolutions, I want to show some photos of the gifts we made for each other here at our house for Christmas this year.

It was so much fun making these gifts, and such a crazy fun celebration when we opened them all up on Christmas Eve.

Everybody was so enthusiastic and everybody had a couple of things they were just popping to give, and to see how their creations would be received.

Everybody was happy and  laughing, and a couple of people cried.

Here’s a little breakdown of what we unwrapped:

Daniel made a mug for Jon, and some coasters and tiled trivets which we will treasure for years to come.

Maggie glued a hundred buttons onto a basket because she knew that was just what Audrey needed, and she also painted and glued beads and sequins onto a flower pot for Jon into which she planted a Christmas cactus, making him a really dramatic piece of living art for his office.    I addition to these treasures, she made an adorable collection of pompom art animals, complete with googly eyes.   They are almost like a little pompom nativity set.

Helen made a set of festive paper lanterns for Audrey and a painting of a mountain scene which she framed up for Jon to take to work.

Jon made some gorgeous wooden items.  One was a beautiful wooden lap desk for Helen, which he tricked out with all kinds of cool calligraphy pens, paper and ink.  So, you can see the writer wearing her new blue shawl here on the left, and here is here lovely desk just below.

Audrey sewed up a cute bag for Helen.

She also made Maggie a soft pink blanket with satin rosebuds on it, under which Maggie is sleeping  as I write here.

Audrey also made some funny T-shirts for the boys which they are wearing in the photos here, and she made  a beautiful collage of black and white photographs for Jon and me.

David made some killer hot-chocolate mix, which is disappearing fast.

Michael made some lovely fragrant candles, and he also  found an old doll sized dresser which belonged to my mother long about 1936.    It was in very poor condition, but he sanded it down,  replaced the mirror, painted it, rebuilt the drawers and made it like new for Maggie.

The queen of all gifts was the wooden knitting box Jon made for me.

It is lovely, lovely.  And I will use it for years to come, and pass it on to one of my girls.

It has three compartments, and one of those has lid with holes especially designed so I can keep yarn in the box, safe and clean, and run it through holes in the lid……and there are three holes in the lid, so I can work with three skeins at a time, if I want.    When I pulled the three boxes apart, I discovered it was packed full of bulky yarn for some great felting project which is yet to be drawn up.   Maybe it will be somebody’s gift next year.

And here is something special Audrey made for me.

It’s a set of twenty one knit markers which she made from silver rings and little blue and green beads.

There’s even an extra large centre marker which I can use for lace knitting, or for marking the beginning of a round on circular needles.

And she’s put them on this funky piece of bent wire which not only looks way cool, it also keeps then from wandering all over that gorgeous box.

Here’s a photo of some knitting that needs pretty markers.  See how boring those little green plastic rings look there.  Imaging that little piece with some groovy beaded markers to set it off.  Maybe then I would finish it!

And in addition to these home-made treasures, there was the annual Christmas slot car stuff, a pile of hockey equipment, an electric keyboard, and various other things that none of us knows how to make, so Jon bought ’em.   Which brings to mind a question that popped into my head Christmas morning:  I wonder how many households have an annual slot-car derby on Christmas Day.   It’s kind of amusing to me that one of the sounds I have come to associate with  Christmas goes along with the sounds of breakfast preparation.

It is the unlikely   sound of those toy  racetracks whining, cars flying off the tracks, and the boys yelling at them while I’m getting the food on the table.  Ruby-red grapefruit, sausage and cheese balls, egg-nog and the sound of those little cars whizzing along and crashing into the furniture.

So much to be thankful for!

Two sweet friends

Wonderful David just handed me a home-made eggnog latte, which is the most delicious way to get into the holiday mood.  With this in hand, I  thought it might be a  great opportunity to hunt through photos and put something Christmassy up on this blog, so as to better set the holiday tone.

But then I got stuck when I found this little item in among the photos from last Christmas.  Here are two dear friends who loved one another in such a precious way.  Neither of them will be with us this year  (though I do get to see my mom in a couple of weeks for her birthday).  Roscoe is gone, and I  miss all his softness and warmth.  But what a lovely thing it was to be his human, for a time.

Makes me want to  get ready to love whoever might be around the  table  this Christmas,  and make the most of our time together.    We’re getting ourselves organized so it can be sweet and fun!

(here are those two old buddies way back in California, being young and silly……)