My High Desert Wildflower Tour

Spring in Central Oregon has been wet and wonderful! Yes, I felt like I was back in Eugene, but for desert dwellers, we can’t complain about the rain. It’s produced some lovely wildflowers on my property, some of which I’ve never seen before.

Here is a photo tour, and I hope to update this post with all the names of all these specimens, but for now, please enjoy the beauty. Over the next week, I’ll be working with the kids on creating a nature journal with the proper designations for each flower. I don’t have in hand a Central Oregon Wildflower book, but I’ll pick one up tomorrow.

First up, this pretty long-stemmed flower was discovered by my daughter growing amongst the sage.

purple in sage

This gorgeous lavender colored wildflower appeared in a few different locations, and has a short blooming season. I believe it’s called a “phacelia,” and it almost seems to glow.

phacelia

Next, I almost stepped on this miniature deep purple-petaled beauty. It’s called a monkeyflower. It was all by itself, I believe the only one I saw. Barely a stem, it seemed to have sprouted straight from the grains of sand.
violet in the ground

Another low-growing flower called Bitter-Root was discovered near some volcanic rock. This specimen was confined to a small area, and only grew next to the moss-covered stones. It’s the closest thing to a desert rose on my property. There were both white and pinkish varieties. Traditionally the roots were peeled, then cooked and eaten, or dried for future use by the natives.
my desert rose

This was an interesting white daisy, with only three distinct petals at this point. Isn’t it pretty? It might be a blackfoot daisy. I wish there were enough to pick a bouquet and place on my kitchen table, but as with all the wildflowers here in my desert, they show up as a rarity with a bountiful rain, so I leave them where I find them. We go out for hikes nearly every day, so I do get to enjoy them while they last!
white daisy

I almost missed this next bunch of pink blooms with yellow centers, but luckily I had my children’s eyes. Lower to the ground – perhaps this is why they seem to uncover more than I do? These are Mohave Asters.
bunch of blooms

Ah, I loved this next one before I found out what it was, the first wildflower I saw this spring! The tall blades it grows within, the puffy oblong yellow cluster of blooms, reminds me of a tiny version of the yuccas I grew up with in Arizona. But it’s HIGHLY POISONOUS! Yes, it’s called Death Camas, and for good reason. Beautiful to behold, deadly to ingest.
reminds-me-of-yucca flower

The final bunch of wildflowers I discovered were the brightest yellow delicate tassels near the edge of the cliff. These are called “Oregon sunshine” and it’s a terrifically happy flower! Each petal was like a spike, each flower beginning with arms reaching straight to heaven, then slowly opening as the day unfolds.
the bright yellows

I hope you enjoyed my Central Oregon wildflower tour. We are blessed with such beauty in our backyard.

“…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.” Mt. 6:28.

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Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Have a great weekend, friends. Honor your country, hug your kids, and enjoy life.

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Ein Deutsches Requiem!

Today was full of beautiful things, the highlight being attending the Central Oregon Symphony’s presentation of Brahms’ German Requiem, joined by the Cascade Chorale and Central Oregon Mastersingers.

My dear friends Jane and Julia were my company, along with the heavenly music, from cellos and violins to the lone harp that Julia was so happy to be just five rows away from. My mom was supposed to go with Jane and me, but wasn’t feeling well, so I called Julia at the last minute, and she was able to meet us there in a moment’s notice!

She was really meant to be there, I told her. She has a thing for the harp, and had the best seat in the house for harp viewing! Due to our late arrival, we were instructed to go down to the front left, directly in front of the lovely lady plucking the long strings. And I learned that Julia hadn’t been to the symphony since she was a child, so this was a treasured time. I totally owed her for taking my kids for me when Luke had his surgery last month, so the requiem was my requital.

The Requiem begins: “Selig sind, die da Leid tragen, denn sie sollen getrostet werden,” or “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I do wish that I’d had the program to follow along with (being late the ushers had left their places), as I don’t understand German, but I’m sitting here tonight going over the text and translation, hoping to someday hear this again with more understanding. But music does transcend translation, and it all still spoke to me.

So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder, bis auf die Zukunft des Herrn. Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet auf die kostliche Frucht der Erde und ist geduldig darüber, bis er empfahe den Morgenregen und Abendregen. Jakobus 5:7

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and how patient he is for the morning and evening rain. James 5:7

I had worked in my garden for several hours just before heading out for the concert, and returned home to a refreshing spring rain. I had been fretting about not watering my little seedlings prior to leaving. Oh, for patience.

Michael Gesme is the music director and conducter of the Central Oregon Symphony, and if you ever have the opportunity to see him, it’s an entertaining treat. He is an active conductor, so energetic and lively, and I did see him jump fully several inches at least once!

Thank you, Johannes Brahms, for a lovely afternoon.

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The Pixie Chicks and other signs of spring

I call these these the Pixie Chicks:

Pixie feeds the chickens
This photo is from a few weeks ago when we stopped at my neighbor Pixie’s house and the kids enjoyed her chickens. We are loving that spring is hopefully here to stay. It IS May, after all. But spring in Central Oregon is 70 degrees one day, hailing one inch stones the next.

Little L with chicks

Here are some more harbingers of spring around our place:

JJ catches another snake
The snakes are coming out from hiding, and my daughter is there to catch them.

long shadows on the grass
The grass is getting green and the long shadows of the afternoon are pleasant.

How is spring turning in your part of the world?

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I did something dangerous.

I let my kids visit the neighbor’s little farm.

JJ with baby chick
JoJo with baby goat
Now guess what they want?

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Pogo: Toxic to the Tongue! A Tragic Tale of Little L

Do you remember pogo sticks? As a little girl in the ’70s, this was one of my favorite past-times, jumping and balancing like a happy kangaroo. Besides my stilts, another old-school toy, the pogo stick was IT.

One of these spring-loaded poles showed up at my school, and the children lined up for their turn to bounce their way to a new school record. My five year old son was hopping like Tigger with the rest of them, until Wednesday.

Little L with snowballI was in the gym when I heard the scream, not unusual for Little L who is dramatic and feisty. But the blood that ensued and the look of fright in his eyes told me this was tragic, not trivial. By the time I got his mouth rinsed enough to see the damage, I discovered he bit clear through his tongue and his bottom lip, in a sort of double-whammy collision, and jarred several teeth out of place in the process. The laceration in his tongue was about an inch across, which is nearly the whole width of a child’s tongue. Seeing through someone’s tongue is very alarming.

The hurry to gather him and my other three children to race off to the doctor was a flurry of emotions, yet in those times of crisis, a mother is somehow able to hold it together. I had no thoughts other than keeping him from choking on the blood that kept coming, and trusted that he was in God’s hands.

Because when it rains it pours, of course my husband was out of town for this entire ordeal, and I also put the truck in a small ravine in my haste to get to the hospital in the neighboring city where surgery had been scheduled. Because I live in a rural area, the surgeon actually personally called to find out where I was. “I’ll be there as soon as I get out of the ditch,” I responded calmly.

As I was waiting for my neighbor to arrive with his John Deere to pull me out, I placed Little L on a nearby rock and comforted him with hugs and my coat wrapped about him to fight off the chilly spring wind. His jacket had, as might be expected, been left at school in the swirl of events.

In these times of calamity, however, as in most watershed moments, there are diamonds in the rough. The staff at St. Charles in Bend were amazing. The ENT surgeon was a father of four children, like me, and he and the nursing and anesthesiology folks just fell in love with Little L and made him feel so special that he said, despite his great pain, “I like it here.” In his new tongue-mangled lisp, he was so charming as he explained that he got hurt when he “wath pogo-ing.”

My dear friend Julia showed up to take my other three children to dinner and then home to tuck them into bed. Since Little L couldn’t eat or drink a drop as he waited for general anesthesia and surgery, I couldn’t very well eat or feed my kids in front of the ravenous little soul. She saved the day, and I must say, I had a few other friends call and offer to do the same. We are very blessed.

One of the most trying moments was an unexpected one, and the Lord sent me another friend to navigate this part. Have you ever witnessed a child coming out of anesthesia? Howling, bellowing, thrashing, wild-eyed — these descriptions barely do justice to the occasion. So, having Courtenay show up unexpectedly at the hospital was a Godsend. She brought me coffee, gathered popsicles and Children’s Motrin for Little L to aid in his recovery, and offered just the right conversation diversion I needed to not be overly consumed with worry over my baby boy.

All stitched up and wranglers back on, Little L was ready to go home. I had promised, however, to take him “somewhere special” and he was holding me to this pledge. Aaaah, it was nearly midnight and after a grueling day like this, I couldn’t, I just couldn’t do anything else. He wanted pancakes, his favorite comfort food.

He drifted off as we headed home, and finally, I was carrying him in the house in what seemed like a dream. I relieved Julia who had taken such good care of my other kids, and set about to get Little L ready for bed. I opened the refrigerator and discovered that God takes care of the most minute details. There were the leftovers of my older son’s dinner that Julia had treated them to. Pancakes. Hallelujah, Little L could have his comfort. Not that he could eat much with his tongue in such a shape, but a few tiny bits of soggy pancake were all he needed to feel satisfied.

The next morning was met with more moments of being cared for in crisis. The Country Wife took Little L for the day, my fellow teacher picked up the other three kids for school, classroom aides handled the morning classes, and I set about living “the day after.”

There is the pogo stick story and why they are toxic to the tongue. Truly, I still think pogo sticks are a classic toy, but we’ll be avoiding them for a long time. It’s been three days, and just so you know, Little L is out happily playing, though he talks really funny for now.

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Women of The French Resistance

Ooops, sorry for those of you who came to this post yesterday or today and found it empty. It was set to auto-post and my whole family was down with the stomach flu. Not much computer time happened in the wake of one kid after another (and then mom) dropping with this horrible vomiting, diarrhea mess.

So, I will repost the article I wrote last year on the subject of the French Resistance. You may have noticed that I am fascinated with France, I am gripped by the Holocaust, and captivated by WWII heroes. Thus, the subject of the French Resistance is of great intrigue to me, especially the women who gave their lives in this effort.

Please read this post on Berthe Fraser, a brave housewife who contributed to the salvation of her country from her simple domestic position. You will learn about what exactly the French Resistance was, as well as the trials and triumphs of such persons. The subtitle of April’s blog is “What you do matters,” and Berthe truly exemplifies this saying. You do not need to have a position of power or wealth to make a difference, you just need a willing heart of courage and valor.

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Behind Enemy Lines

I can’t do justice to a complete review on this book at the moment; however, I’d rather give a quick word than to delete this scheduled post. I wish my week wasn’t as full as it is right now, or I’d have so much to tell you!

History is simply the story of people, and I’m so curious about people. Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany by Marthe Cohn with Wendy Holden is an autobiographical book about a woman of the French Resistance – those mostly underground forces in France fighting Hitler and the Nazis in World War II.

I first mentioned this book on my blog last year in this post on Berthe Fraser, as part of a series I wrote on the women of the French Resistance. At the end of the post on Ms. Fraser, I recommended several books to those interested in other accounts of these brave women of the Resistance. One of these books was Behind Enemy Lines.

A few times in the life of my blog I’ve reviewed books and been contacted by the author to thank me. But nothing prepared me for receiving an email from the author of Behind Enemy Lines, Marthe Cohn, grateful that I’d included her book in my follow-up list of recommended reads. Folks, the woman is 90 years old and still living! And she knows how to send an email! Hallelujah!

We exchanged an email or two, and she agreed to do an author Q & A for me on this marvelous book of hers. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve not yet put that together, and shame on me for that! Which is why I simply cannot do a complete review yet on this book. However, this being Holocaust Remembrance Week, I had to bring this to the table and let you know it’s on my mind, and I’ll be following up, because as we know time is of the essence.

One question that I know I have for Marthe Cohn concerns the aftermath of the liberation. There’s a part in her book where she talks about seeing groups of ragged, skeletal, filthy, unrecognizable people with big, empty eyes roaming the streets begging for help. They were ignored. No one believed them. These were the remnant left of the Jews, hanging on by a thread, slowing making their way out of the liberated concentration camps. By this point, didn’t people know about the Holocaust? This was a gut-wrenching and scary moment for me, realizing that still, after all that, people could still turn their backs on humanity.

There will be more to come on this story, but I must sign off for now. God bless your week.

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Grieving with Poland

I’ve been emailing back and forth today with a friend in Poland. I’m hosting a young Polish girl this summer, the student of my friend who teaches English there. We went over the details of Julia’s itinerary and plans for her stay in the U.S.

Of course, we talked about the tragic plane crash today that killed the President of Poland, along with 96 other Polish political leaders and citizens. My friend emailed me:

“The plane crash is tragic for Poland–so many ‘officials’ lost at one time. Politically, it will have an impact because the presidential election is this year and some of the main opponents to the prime minister’s party were on board the plane–it looks like the party has lost any chance of competing in the election now–what a shame so many people were killed in the same place where 20,000 Polish soldiers were murdered 70 years ago.”

Please offer some prayers for our brothers and sisters in Poland. I was reminded this morning of reason #99 to host a foreign exchange student: as we connect with people around the globe, our capacity for understanding and love expands. I was riveted by the news of the devastating loss even more so because I feel a personal connection to at least two people in Poland.

God’s blessings on Poland. It is a very special place. The reform movement that began the dismantling of communism in east central Europe began in Poland. We have the Poles to thank in large part for the fall of the Berlin Wall. I pray that the new leaders of this significant nation will be bold freedom seekers and lovers of liberty.

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Posted in history, politics/world news | 6 Comments

Suite Française and Irene’s Story

Suite Française has three parts: the two main novellas, “Storm in June” and “Dolce,” and the Appendices that provide essential details about author Irène Némirovsky’s plans for the book as well as gripping correspondence that highlights the tragic story unfolding in her own family.

Suite Française portrays life in France from June, 1940 to July 1, 1941. The early German occupation of France and its impact on the daily lives of those involved is told with clarity and deep understanding of a depraved humanity and human conduct under significant pressure.

The story opens with residents realizing the Germans are at the gates of Paris. The narratives of a few people are followed as chaos ensues. The reader gets a sense of both the individual and the collective panic, with banks failing, railroads being bombed, houses being overtaken by Nazi soldiers.

The mass exodus from Paris is described in “Storm in June” with a beautiful, expressive tone, as the author relates a scene from a boulevard where families are moving with a dizzying agitation to pack up their families and belongings:

In the darkness the danger seemed to grow. You could smell the suffering in the air, in the silence. Even people who were normally calm and controlled were overwhelmed by anxiety and fear. … Panic obliterated everything that wasn’t animal instinct, involuntary physical reaction. Grab the most valuable things you own in the world and then . . . ! And, on that night, only people – the living and the breathing, the crying and the loving – were precious. Rare was the person who cared about their possessions; everyone wrapped their arms tightly round their wife or child and nothing else mattered; the rest could go up in flames.

The second novella, “Dolce,” describes a subdued and defeated French people in the village of Bussy who must live with an incoming garrison of Wehrmacht troops. We see a settling, an adapting to the new reality of an occupied country. There are collaborators and resisters, and all the characters in between.

Suite Française ends with the German regiment leaving the village of Bussy to continue their fighting in Moscow. The final scene describes the village onlookers watching the enemy pull out.

They had become accustomed to them, had looked at them indifferently, without being afraid. But now the sight of it all made them shudder. The truck, full to bursting with big loaves of black bread, freshly baked and sweet-smelling, the Red Cross vans, with no passengers – for now . . . the field kitchen, bumping along at the end of the procession like a saucepan tied to a dog’s tail. The men began singing, a grave, slow song that drifted away into the night.

About the Author:

Irène Némirovsky, a Jew from Ukraine, was born into a wealthy family that eventually fled the country during the Russian Revolution. The family ended up in Paris, and Irène quickly became a celebrated author in France.

Irène was not what one would consider an observant Jew. In fact, some have called her a self-hating Jew. Her willingness to convert to Catholicism for protection, her unsuccessful attempt to become a French citizen, her usage of anti-Semitic publishers to promote her books — all reveal a woman who was trusting in France and not Yahweh to save her.

But no matter, none of this diminishes the important place in Holocaust literature of Suite Française. You won’t find the spiritual Jewish perspective of an Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel in Irène’s writings, but this just highlights Hitler’s insanity. He didn’t care if you loved or hated being a Jew. The Nazis dealt the same hand of death to both.

Married to Jewish banker Michel Epstein, Irène had two daughters, Denise and Élisabeth. It was these two daughters we have to thank for the survival of the manuscript Suite Française.

By 1940, Jews all over Europe were deeply persecuted, and so it was with Irène’s family. She could no longer get her books published, and her husband could no longer work at the bank because of their Jewish ancestry. Despite having converted to Catholicism and being a popular literary figure in France, Irène was arrested in July 1942 as a “stateless person of Jewish descent” and sent to Auschwitz, where she died on August 17, 1942. Her husband shared the same fate a few months later in the gas chambers.

And what of the children and this book, Suite Française? Denise and Élisabeth were hidden in schools and convents until the war’s end. Their father, before he was taken away, had given them one possession to guard with their lives: a little suitcase which contained a special notebook. Can you imagine these two little orphan girls, about 13 and 5 years old, in hiding and in possession of this one family memento, too afraid to leave it, too afraid to examine its contents?

In fact, for over 50 years, the leatherbound notebook which contained Irène’s two novellas which comprise Suite Française, written in microscopic print to save precious paper, remained unopened inside of this suitcase. Irène’s daughters thought it was their mother’s journal, and knew that reading it would be too painful to bear.

Upon preparing to give her mother’s papers to a French archive in the late 1990’s, Denise finally had the courage to open the notebook. She discovered this extraordinary work, incomplete yet whole, written under the most formidable circumstances. The two novellas were intended to be the beginning of a series of five stories which would encompass the whole of the war, to its end. Irène wrote that the rest of the oeuvre was “in limbo, and what limbo! It’s really in the lap of the gods since it depends on what happens.”

Irène’s writing in Suite Française is remarkable not just for its brilliant composition but its perspective. Irène did not begin writing this book until 1941, literally as these events were unfolding before her. However, Suite Française reads not like the diary of one writing contemporaneously with the historical events, lacking a certain coherence, but it presents a viewpoint usually reserved for one who is a generation removed from the time in question who has had time to reflect.

I wonder if Irène’s placement in the timeline of human history prepared her for such a task? She had already lived as a persecuted Jew through a major war, and experienced firsthand the full circle of events. After the 1918 Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks seized her father’s bank and the Nemirovsky family had to disguise themselves as peasants and flee to Finland.

Denise reported after publication of Suite Française, “For me, the greatest joy is knowing that the book is being read. It is an extraordinary feeling to have brought my mother back to life. It shows that the Nazis did not truly succeed in killing her. It is not vengeance, but it is a victory.”

Universal Pictures has acquired screen rights to Suite Française. I think a better choice might be to make a movie about Irène Némirovsky herself, whose real life story is much more moving than the fiction she wrote.

sources:
NY Times article: As France Burned by Paul Gray
suitefrancaisefamily.com
Museum of Jewish Heritage: Woman of Letters

In other blogs:
dovegreyreader
the coffee spoon

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When Ginger Came Flying My Way

It was one of those days when I’m glad to live in a small town; and believe me, there are days when I wish I didn’t. I was shopping at my local grocery store this evening when a friend approached as I lingered over the apples, and with a quick word she tossed a mesh sack of ginger across the produce aisle. In a big city, a lady tossing food at you in the grocery store might cause a riot, but here in my cow-town, it means you’re loved.

I barely caught it, but firmly caught the advice she gave me on how to make ginger tea. “Just grate some up in pan of water, heat and simmer it for a bit,” she suggested. She claimed it was great for arthritis, and I wondered if I possibly looked arthritic at the moment. Perhaps frenetic, as my four kids were scattered hither and there, grabbing goat cheese off the shelves and bumping into strangers’ carts. I do remember being told when I was pregnant and facing morning sickness that chewing on a bit of ginger would do a world of good for nausea.

I’ve drank plenty of ginger tea, usually a ginger-lemon or ginger-honey variety, but always brewed from a bag. I looked forward to this homemade brew from a rhizome that my little boy thought was a bag of doggie treats. Okay, I confess I was going to say ginger root, but upon further research, I discovered that only “common” people call it a ginger root, as it is botanically not so – it’s a rhizome because whole new ginger plants can self-generate from budded sections, whereas a root will die if split into sections.

I had a flashback to that time in my childhood when I went through a phase of wishing I had a different name – the name I had inexplicably chosen was Ginger, and my dear Mom humored me and called me Ginger until I grew tired of it.

At any rate, I promptly grated up a pile of ginger (way too much) and threw it in a pan of water and made some tea. With neither lemon or honey on hand, I added molasses to to my brew. Voila, Ginger Molasses Tea, the finest, spiciest, and most aromatic tea I’ve had in a long time! I prepared a cup for my mom, telling her how good it is for her, especially if she has arthritis. She looked at me askance, but with her memory, she doesn’t know if she has arthritis or not. What she does have, however, is apparently much benefited by ginger – poor circulation, migraines, chills, and more. After looking up the health benefits, I realized how grateful I am that my friend send ginger flying my way tonight.

Here are some of the benefits of ginger:

Ginger can block the effects of prostaglandin, a substance that causes inflammation of blood vessels in the brain that leads to migraines.

Ginger relieves nausea.

Ginger can help ease menstrual and stomach cramps.

Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties that reduces the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Ginger warms the upper respiratory tract, and is effective against colds and flu and even allergies.

Ginger stimulates digestion and relieves stomach gas.

Ginger has a positive effect on the circulatory system as it causes the platelets to be less sticky.

Ginger is a mood enhancer and stress reliever, due to its cineole content.

Ginger is a great mouth freshener.

Ginger has anti-fungal properties.

Cheers, have a cup of ginger tea!

Posted in family life, features, health/cooking/food | 9 Comments

Dear March – Come in!

How are things in your part of the world? It may not feel like spring, but I know it’s coming, the calendar tells me so. And also the sky, the birds, the tiny signs of life I see poking through the ground.

Are you still covered with snow? Is the wind chilling you to the core? Take heart, it’s March! That means April and May are just around the corner. Are you thinking about what you’ll plant in your garden this year? I am, and I hope to add a few things to the mix this year. We started some vegetables last week, but here in Central Oregon, the rule of thumb on when to plant outdoors is “when the snow is gone from Black Butte,” which tends to be about June 1st!

Here is a lovely poem by Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest poets to ever write about nature, next to David. Enjoy these lines, and enjoy your March.

Dear March, Come in!
by Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

Dear March, Come in!

How glad I am!

I looked for you before.
Put down your hat —

You must have walked —

How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the bird’s;

The maples never knew
That you were coming, — I declare,

How red their faces grew!

But March, forgive me —

And all those hills
You left for me to hue;

There was no purple suitable,

You took it all with you.

Who knocks?
That April!

Lock the door!

I will not be pursued!

He stayed away a year, to call

When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial

As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise

And praise as mere as blame.

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I Am From

I AM FROM
By Jennifer @ Diary of 1

I am from dusty country roads,
From Vick’s Vapor Rub
And handmade clothes.
I am from the dirt floors of a house built from corrugated iron and boards,
With unshaded lightbulbs dangling from cords.
I am from the mint patch, Arizona honeysuckle, and big blue sky,
The black walnut grove, blooming yucca, and tumbleweeds piled high.

I am from clothes on the line and Kick the Can,
From Andy and Nelda,
The Appalachian and the artisan.
I am from Heather and Nancy and Becky,
From pride and poverty and poetry.
I’m from you’ll catch a cold and don’t hold open the refrigerator door,
Revival meetings, The Old Rugged Cross, and stories of the saints of yore.

I am from Tucson and Scots-Irish and English blood,
From clans and crests
And ‘Touch not the cat but a glove.’
I’m from fresh peaches and blackberries picked by my hand,
Fried okra and black coffee cooked in a pan.
I’m from Great Uncle Fran who could stand on his head,
And Great Granddad who carved the presidents now dead.
I’m from the hillbilly, Confederate, Merchant Marine,
The carpenter, the teacher, and ghosts that are seen.

I am from Mama’s stitched up album,
Careful labels on each photo
Tell where I’m from.
Old black and whites with yellowed corner tape
Reveal my mother with an eye for landscape.
I am from the snapshot of a small girl by the mailbox and mesquite,
A lovely memory from a lonely street.
I am from books and words and walks,
From designs in the clouds and the circling of hawks.
Where are you from?

I wrote this poem in response to the meme over at Chrysalis. Tonight is the last night to enter her contest, but I hope you’ll write your own and share it with me. The template for this poem is here, and the original poem of this style by George Ella Lyon is here.

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Posted in family life, features, poetry | 16 Comments

Hello, not much to say

What can I write about? I’m feeling very much like I have nothing to say, so here is my meager offering to my diary.

I did a load of dishes and a load of laundry, swept the kitchen and the mud room, and that’s all I can muster. It’s about 8:30 p.m. and I’m ready for bed. I’ll get up early. I talk myself into going to bed early with “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I hope it works. It’s not usually my nature to get to bed early, but I am unusually tired.

I need to rise early to make a batch of sugar cookies for the kids at school. We’re celebrating Valentine’s Day tomorrow. I’m realizing at the moment that I have nothing with which to decorate the cookies, so they will be plain Jane. At least I have a heart-shaped cookie cutter. The cookies will be all the healthier, I’m telling myself. Will the kids buy it? Uh-oh, I also just realized I’m not supposed to take home-baked goodies to school. Store-bought only. Great, let’s deprive kids of healthier options, it’s the law. Bring on the artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and plastic wrapping.

I’ve been having many days in a row of putting my foot in my mouth. I did it again today. What’s with me? Do you have weeks like this? Do you ever ask the good Lord WHY can’t I learn my lesson about [fill in the blank]? Why am I so dull-headed? Geez.

I digress, from nothing, so it’s okay.

I’m emptied of all my not-very-deep thoughts, so now I’ll head to bed. Tomorrow is a new day, which I’m grateful for. I have an evening coffee date with two amazing ladies, one a dear friend, and the other the friend of the dear friend. God bless my sweet husband for getting the kids to bed, all tucked in with a kiss and a prayer.

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Sleepy Goodnight

Goodnight, that’s all. I’m tired, so I’ll go to bed. I’ve lived most of my adult life not following that simple reasoning, and instead have pushed myself to the very limits of physical and mental endurance. For something or another. A final exam, a work project, a busy season, there is always a pressing reason (in my mind) to not listen to my body say, “I’m fatigued.”

I’m finally learning that there are consequences to this behavior! I’m nearly 40 – yikes, in July. After my last unexpected visit to the doctor, when I recently felt faint and dizzy at work for no reason at all (just sitting helping a student with math), I was roused from my blasé attitude that my body can handle anything. My doctor, who delivered my last baby and knows me fairly well, had looked at me with her eyes tearing over and said, “I need to write a note to your boss to tell him/her that you can’t work so much.” I laughed self-consciously and told her she’d be writing a note to myself, at which point she promptly scheduled me a counseling appointment to deal with my seeming inability to not work so much!

I didn’t go to the appointment, but the incident did serve as a needed wake-up call, and I’ve made some changes in my schedule. Which begins with, goodnight, I’m tired.

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The holocaust of time

Note: this blog post turned into an essay. If you don’t have TIME to read it, then don’t. But it just might save you some time.

There is a war on time. As I resolved to waste less time this year, I had the chilling thought that modern life is fracturing our souls with its pulls and lures in every direction, so much so that we are barely left human. It’s the holocaust of time.

What a harsh word to use – holocaust. I think about my comfortable, wise viewpoint of 2010 as I look back upon the Holocaust of the 1930s – 1945 in Europe. HOW could the bystanders and the apathetic and the scared and the collaborators have EVER let it happen?

And then I thought about what evil forces are at work at this moment in history, a very different holocaust, the annihilation of well-spent time, and I believe that my descendants will have the same judgement: HOW could the bystanders and the apathetic and the scared and the collaborators have EVER let it happen?

Time is…what? Even the greatest physicists don’t understand the nature of time. Time is clearly more than a hand on a clock. It is motion, logic, and life. Time is perhaps a dimension, an eternal state. Whatever it is, in our daily life we understand that we are limited in our access to time, and if more time is consumed than we have accounted for, we are left motionless, logic-less, and lifeless.

Oh, how often people say “I don’t have enough time” or “I ran out of time.” Time is a commodity that is essential to life itself, and so I’m not surprised that the Enemy of our soul would like to destroy our time. Since there is nothing new under the sun, I suspect that the modern version of time-wasters have some kind of past counterpart.

I’d like to try to identify some of the biggest modern time-wasters, then discern what it is that makes us human, and next, distill some basics of life that must be done before all else. I think this progression of thought will be helpful in eliminating those elements that steal time, and hope that we can make some radical changes to avoid a time-crisis of holocaust proportions. Finally, I’ll look at the elements of a holocaust.

First, what are some of the biggest time wasters? Here’s a short list I came up with, and by the way these are all probably addictions:

TV. There is an overarching theme of voyeurism and vicarious living in how 21st century people watch TV. That there was an uproar over Lost being scheduled opposite the State of the Union is pathetic.

Internet. Clicking with the theme of too much information. Both China and South Korea have pronounced internet addiction their number one public health issue.

Gaming.There’s the 23 year old I know who flunked out of college and lost several jobs over this online computer games addiction.

Junk. There’s the news junkies, the junk reading (ie People Magazine and all the junk novels masquerading as literature), junk talking (gossip is a huge time-sucker), junk shopping, junk managing.

A friend recently sent me an email ending with this pronouncement that says it best: So when you want to talk in real time, using real voice and ears, please feel free to dial us up. E-mail is OK, but you won’t find us on Facebook, tweet, twitter, or twerp; nor on YouTube, the boobtube, or at Jiffylube.

Next, identify what makes you human. This is really important because if we don’t understand how we are created to truly be fulfilled, we’ll keep squandering our time on unprofitable things.

Relationships, not reality-TV. Why do we care more about what celebrity couple has tied the knot than we do about the ties that bind?

Connecting with God’s Creation, not a Wii or a PC. What ever happened to the very dirt beneath our feet, the growing things, the natural sun, the natural?

Connecting with God, through the simplicity of personally reading the Bible and prayer. How much time, relative to this, do we spend pursuing the latest spiritual fad or trendy Christian author instead?

Finally, recognize the basics of life that must be done before all else. See, because time is in fact limited by the nature of our finite lives, it would be wise to do the things that have to be done first, those things essential to being human, then, whatever time is left, tend to the non-essentials. You may discover there actually is no time for the non-essentials. Sadly, we’ve reversed this precept, and are left with the essentials hanging out to dry. So, earn a living, take care of your family and home, and get enough rest, good nutrition, and exercise. That’s about all you’ll really have time for.

If there is a holocaust of time, who or what is the perpetrator? In the midst of a holocaust, it seems there are four main groups of people: the strong minority perpetrators, the weak majority victims, the mass of unassisting spectators, and the few and brave of the resistance.

My mind screams, “Hollywood!” “Consumerism!” “Gluttony!” But who can I point a finger at, where is the evil Hitler who is the diabolical villain behind the extermination of quiet evenings at home reading to your children and the massacre of talking to your neighbors after work instead of garage door up, garage door down?

Is it just modernity? Declining morality? Certainly there is a particular greed surrounding the monetizing of time that can be found in Hollywood and the corporate gadgeteers. There’s money to be made off of people wasting their time on your latest fad, gadget, game, icon, celebrity, or cereal.

The weak majority of Americans who fall for these artifices are suffering intensely. We have anxiety over the stress we feel on our time, so we’re perhaps on some kind of medication, we fail at family life, maybe turn to drugs or alcohol. It takes time to be healthy mentally, spiritually, and physically!

What about that mass of spectators that is typically found in a holocaust? I would describe the unassisting spectators as those whose heads are buried in the sand and think nothing is wrong. They love their sitcoms and sit idly by while their kids play violent games on the X-Box and become entrenched in a depraved culture with little likelihood of finding their way out.

And the resistance. I’m a big fan of the heroes of the French Resistance, the Dutch Resistance, and others who bravely fought to defeat the Nazis. They worked underground, through stealth and reconnaissance, and turned the tide. True, they were also betrayed, tortured, and killed. So, to complete the holocaust analogy, this is where it happens.

It’s the Resistance who need to be courageous in this battle for our time. Resist the time-wasters and for heaven’s save, do not allow your children to succumb to them. Get rid of your TV if you have to. Unplug. Kids do not have to join organized sports at age three. They don’t need to check Facebook and text their friends twenty times a day, nor do you.

Blessings upon your time, my friends.

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of. – Benjamin Franklin

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Keepin’ it Real in 2010

The New Year’s Resolutions are a’comin’, by the thousands, around the globe. Many lofty, admirable, and noteworthy goals will soon be flowing from pens near and far.

As for me, I’m keeping it real, attainable, and utterly basic, so as to actually realize a few goals. Gone are the “read 30 classic novels in one year,” “become fluent in French” and “learn to play Bach.”

Here’s my top ten New Year’s Resolutions for 2010, unsophisticated and no-frills:

1. Limit frozen pizza to just one dinner a week.

2. Change my sheets at least once a month, vacuum, ditto.

3. Never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink…at least 5 out of 7 nights.

4. Never go to bed with my day clothes on; same for the kids – pajamas every night!

5. For goodness sake, always have toilet paper and milk stocked.

6. Stretch every morning with the goal of touching my toes (without bending my legs!) by mid-year.

7. Write at least one paper and pen and stamp letter each month to someone I love.

8. I will be a paper-attacker – no stacks of letters will accumulate on my kitchen counter.

9. I won’t waste time surfing the web, and especially won’t click on the latest scandalmongering from Hollywood.

10. Return every library book on time. And pay all the old fines.

How about you? What are your hopes for keeping it real in 2010?

Happy New Year!

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Merry Christmas from Diary of 1

trimming the tree
Christmas Eve day. What a day of bustling, cheery, frantic activity for us. We’ve been sweeping the dropped needles, clearing out every dust bunny we can unearth, fine-tuning the best pie crust recipe ever, and generally preparing for this most special of times.

The last of the Christmas cards went out yesterday; mine via email due to lack of time or resources – I do apologize if this is too tacky for your taste, I don’t particularly like it either; and my mother’s via post.

My mother. Four Christmas cards were prepared for Uncle Doug, three for Aunt Pat, and duplicates for several others. It’s her mind. I usually run interference and rescue the bonus cards (and their accompanying stamps), but this time, I sent them all. They need to know, right? Oh, a terrible thought, what if they think they’re the ones going crazy? :-)

Jane is coming for dinner tonight. I ran into her at the grocery store last week. She was in the baking aisle, putting along in her electric chair with oxygen tubes giving her breath. She wept tears of joy upon seeing us, me and JoJo who loves her like a Grandma. It’s not like it used to be when we lived half a block away from her sunshine yellow house and visited several times a week.

“Can I bake you some cookies?” she wanted to know. Of course I replied. I missed her 85th birthday and feel terrible about that. It’s a few days from Thanksgiving, and what a time to try to remember a birthday. Her mind is yet sharper than my mother’s, so I know she noticed. We’ll make it up to her. I’m just wondering how I’ll get her into my van and how I’ll keep my five year old from tripping over the miles of oxygen tubing.

My two girls are scrubbing toilets as I write, and the older sister, just eight, asked if this can now be her job. “Since we haven’t been composting as much (her other main job), can I be the toilet scrubber?” Who knew it was such fun. Note to self: meaningful jobs make kids feel a mile tall.

Well, Merry Christmas to all! Hold your dear ones tight, reach out to a soul in need, and love, as we have been loved by our Creator.

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Scene and Herd

Arranging the creche
Concerns About the Creche

J: No, no, the angels are looking at nothing!

L: Well, let’s move the shepherd back here, he’s a lesser one anyway.

J: The Wise Man can’t be giving his gift to the cow, move him!

L: Oh, here’s the little lamb that broke last year. Oh well. It’s just one.

J: How cute, the camel is peering through the gate!

L: If only the angel could sit on top of the stable, there’d be more room and she’d be looking right down at Jesus. But she’d fall.

J: Everyone has to be looking at the baby Jesus!

(after many minutes of shuffling, conversing, and pondering the cramped quarters, the children reach an agreement)

L & J: It’s perfect!

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Revisiting the Magic Window

I wrote about my Magic Window last December, and guess what? I found it!

my magic window in the bedroom window
Actually, one of my kids found it in a box of my scant childhood mementos.

I wrote last December:

What was so magical about this double-paned case of shifting sand? For a little girl in a rather impoverished and remote desert region of the southwest, I could dream, carried away to nowhere in particular but someplace beautiful on every twist and flow of those magical grains. I longed to touch the sand that surely was silky smooth and would flow through my fingers like fairy dust.

Here it sits, right at home in my bedroom window, a magical melding of past and present. This was the first day of snow in Central Oregon, several weeks ago now.

Gazing out my windows at the crystalline air and bustling winterish activity, I had an epiphany. Something I can’t put into words, but a full circle was realized on this day.

My littlest made the first cheery snowball of the season.
Little L's snowball

His big brother followed suit in a grand way with his own ambitious snowball.
Big L and his snowball

Who knew my little Magic Window circa 1975 would be a foreshadowing of such delightful affairs? I thought of a passage from Paul’s writings in the New Testament:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Here’s to a continued revealing and clarifying of the “magic window” of our lives. May unspoken dreams come true. May dark days get brighter. May we soon be face to face.

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When you feel like giving up

Storm on Sea by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, 1899
Storm on Sea by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, 1899

Remember Winston Churchill’s words to Harrow School on a visit in October of 1941:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

He could not have known fully what was to come. It was only 1941, and several years of terrible, unspeakable war were ahead. Churchill did also say in that same speech something that does, however, lead me to believe he had an inkling:

But we must learn to be equally good at what is short and sharp and what is long and tough. It is generally said that the British are often better at the last. They do not expect to move from crisis to crisis; they do not always expect that each day will bring up some noble chance of war; but when they very slowly make up their minds that the thing has to be done and the job put through and finished, then, even if it takes months – if it takes years – they do it.

Another lesson I think we may take, just throwing our minds back to our meeting here ten months ago and now, is that appearances are often very deceptive, and as Kipling well says, we must “…meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.”

You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.

I feel like giving up almost daily.

I stop and pray. Sometimes there is a breakthrough and the clouds powerfully part and the sun shines through. Sometimes there is no breakthrough, only new struggles. I was struck in Churchill’s speech by the quote from Kipling to treat Triumph and Disaster just the same (from the classic poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling). Which is with courage and humility. As the Bible says, give thanks in all things.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Be strong today.

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Our Oregon Ducks

My class at our small country school hatched out the cutest little baby ducks a few weeks ago. After 20 some days of the children carefully turning the eggs twice daily, checking the temperature and humidity, and barely checking their excitement, the eggs cracked. Several of them hatched right before their eyes, and can you even imagine the squeals I heard?!

baby ducks
Out of a dozen eggs, six produced these chirping beauties, and six were inactive. The eggs came from a local farmer, and these are not your run-of-the-mill ducks. Apparently the farmer had the male shipped from back East just to breed with a duck she had on the farm. I need to find out the name of the breed, and I’ll share that when I know. So, here are our classroom exotic Oregon Ducks! Go Ducks!

They have now returned to the farm. After two weeks and ducks that tripled in size and smell, their time had come. But not before many little children drew pictures of them, wrote stories about them, and even dreamed about them. Next up, a visit to the farm to visit Chloe, Blackjack, Stripe, and the others.

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The Advent of Freedom: celebrating 20 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this Thanksgiving month, what a reminder to give thanks to God for freedom, wherever it exists, both on the face of the earth and in our spirits. Where there is no freedom, there is death in every sense.

You can click here to view President Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin.

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Where were you in 1989? I was a freshman/sophomore in college and remember the winds of freedom and the breath of the Spirit of God sweeping across Eastern Europe. The topic was on the lips of everyone I knew, yet I was too young to realize what a momentous and once-in-a-lifetime event this was. I heard about miraculous events in Poland, not understanding exactly what “solidarity” meant, but loving the word.

The collapse of communism, as it unfolded before this young woman, was like a great revival movement, the product of much suffering, much prayer, much sacrifice, and great boldness. I wish I could go back to that scene for a moment and feel again what it felt like, this time with more wisdom and experience.

Celebrate freedom today!

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Dang, the kid can color!

I’m not one to pay much attention to developmental milestones in my children. But my five year old boy gives new meaning to “color inside the lines.” Here is what he accomplished last week, all in one sitting.

Little L's coloring sheet

I thought it was pretty cool, my husband thought it was pretty freaky. “Did you notice how he colored every shape the same color?” he asked incredulously. While father was proud of his son, he wondered at the sophisticated color patterns and the precision of his little strokes. Talk about fine motor skills.

Had I not observed him complete this entire masterpiece, I wouldn’t have believed it. I remembered being annoyed with him for stomping around the room in frustration because he couldn’t find yellow. Apparently, he had run out, and no other color would do. He found what he wanted, and continued.

So, could you do as well? Not me!

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Mint tea and me

Mint leaves in my potI grew mint in my garden this year, mostly because of the treasured childhood memories I have of the mint growing in our Arizona garden. I loved this mint as a little girl, and when I would get sent out to pick it for my mother’s tea, I would usually eat my way through the mint patch as I plucked some leaves for her. I must have had the freshest breath in Cochise County.

Last week, I made the first pot of my very own mint tea. I boiled some water for my mother and me. I lingered over the stove, breathing in the tingly aroma as the minty vapors cleansed the air. Later, as we snuggled down into our chairs with cups of mint tea, I asked my mom if she remembered our mint patch. Vaguely, she said. I never thought I’d see the day when the bed of mint was a “vague” memory of hers. Still, it was a wonderful, savored moment.

I have friends who are also caretakers of an aging parent. The wife’s father is the live-in parent, and in my case, it’s my mother. A few weeks ago, my friend’s father had a stroke, and now he needs assistance with feeding, toileting, bathing, everything, and he no longer speaks intelligibly. The fact that I could sit with my mother and enjoy a cup of mint tea and simple conversation is a great joy.

One of my sisters grows mint. It turns out my grandmother from Michigan grew mint, which led to my mother’s love of mint. This sister took some of Grandma’s mint and transplanted it into her own garden, and has moved it from house to house, wherever she goes. She lives in Ohio now. I’m wondering if there’s a way for her to ship some of her mint to me in Oregon? My mother’s Arizona mint patch is long gone, and Grandma’s is too (she’s been in Heaven for almost 20 years now). Am I crazy? Good grief, mint is mint. Oh well, perhaps I’ll be checking on getting me some of that old family mint.

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October’s Party

Autumn_Leaves2This painting Autumn Leaves by John Everett Millais (1856) fits the following poem so well. I can just imagine that these are my own four children gathering leaves and admiring their beauty. These girls in the long velvet dresses may not be thinking of jumping in the pile of leaves, but that would be the first thing my own kids would do.
As I’ve been searching for some enjoyable fall activities for the kids, I came across the poem “October’s Party” by George Cooper. It’s a great one to have children memorize, especially if there is a fall festival where they can recite it for a group. Here is the poem, full of delightful personification and imagery.

October’s Party
by George Cooper

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came—
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.

The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.

Then, in the rustic hollow,
At hide-and-seek they played,
The party closed at sundown,
And everybody stayed.
Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly “hands around.”

Isn’t that just entertaining to read aloud? I love it!

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My Garden: A Short Photo Essay

Our garden brought a smile to my face all summer long.

JoJo with the first carrot
Funny carrot shapes.

Little L with his heli-pea-copter
Edible toys (a pea pod turned helicopter).

Big L watering the garden
A great job for a child.

Little L finds the first strawberry
The joy of finding the first fruit.

The first bowl of lettuce from our garden.
Best of all, food for the table.

You may also enjoy these past posts from Diary of 1:
Gardening With Children
Fun With Seeds and Seedlings

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Boy’s eye view of science

L w/ snap circuit set

My favorite photo from last week is my 10 year old son putting together his “Snap Circuit Set.” He needs a more advanced electricity kit because he does this one by heart and so fast it would make Franklin and Faraday spin.

But he still loves it. What is it about boys and energy/power? Not that girls aren’t into this, I do have a daughter who loves to dabble with this electricity kit as well. But notice I said “dabble.” I certainly give my girls every opportunity I give my boys, and my 8 year old daughter rides a motorcycle right there with her big brother. But still.

Anyway, just look at his intensity and concentrated tongue as he eyes the invisible current; curious, so curious.

My blog theme this month was supposed to be something about mothers being present with their children. I haven’t written much, I’ve been busy. But a good sort of busy and doing what I can with the kiddos in the midst of busy-ness. I suppose I would just recommend to moms out there to include your children in whatever it is you are doing, and include yourself in whatever it is they are doing.

The jobs I give my children I do with them as much as I can. The girls are responsible for the kitchen. Since they can’t reach the cupboards, it means I have to be in there as the hand-to person, grabbing each plate and bowl as fast as they pass them up. As my boys tend the garden, watering and weeding, I will sit with my coffee and marvel with them at how tall the sunflowers have grown, and rejoice with them over the size of the squash.

I was careful to let my son know that I would love to take a picture of him as he constructed a current. This meant a lot to him. My daughter wanted to know that I took a picture of her, too, which I did. This wasn’t about them being proud of being in the spotlight, it was about Mom caring and noticing that they did something noteworthy.

Posted in education, family life, features, parenting, science | 10 Comments

When I’m Five

When I’m five, I can fly a kite,

Little L flies a kite

ride a bike,

Little L rides his new bike

shoot an arrow,

Little L plays Indian

frost a cake (and eat it, too),

Little L puts icing on his cake

make a wish and blow out the candles.

Little L blows out the candles

Happy Birthday, Little L!! You can do so many things when you are five!

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Faith Like Potatoes

“The condition for a miracle is difficulty, however the condition for a great miracle is not difficulty, but impossibility.”

Log at Billychinook

My husband and I watched the movie Faith Like Potatoes last night. Great movie for this season of our life especially. It’s the real-life story of South African farmer Angus Buchan who, in faith, plants potatoes in the dust in the midst of a severe drought. You can guess what happens.

Are you facing difficulty or impossibility? Then you are ripe for miracles, if you would just have “faith like potatoes,” or “like a mustard seed,” as we have more commonly heard from Scripture.

The photo I posted here was from our recent outing to Lake Billy Chinook. This log captured my attention and mesmerized me for quite some time. The old timber would float to and fro with the waves, smoothed to nearly silk from the endless action of the waves. It provided hours of glee for my son who would sit on it, and hours of contemplation for me as I thought about the ups and downs and yet constancies of life.

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Corazon Aquino, former Philippines president, has died

I just read on the AP news:

MANILA, Philippines – Former President Corazon Aquino, who swept away a dictator with a “people power” revolt and then sustained democracy by fighting off seven coup attempts in six years, died on Saturday, her son said. She was 76.

The uprising she led in 1986 ended the repressive 20-year regime of Ferdinand Marcos and inspired nonviolent protests across the globe, including those that ended Communist rule in eastern Europe.

Most of you have probably shed tears over the death of someone you never knew, and this was the case for me as I read the news of this amazing woman and one of my heroes of democracy.

Cory (as she was called) Aquino was a Christian and a deeply devout woman of prayer. I do not pass lightly over that fact. She trusted in the mighty God of all nations to end the repressive dictatorship in her beloved Philippines. Cory had to trust God through many trials. She had been a homemaker, raising four daughters and a son. Her husband was imprisoned by President Ferdinand Marcos because of his outspoken criticism of the regime, for the long years of 1972-1980. She was then widowed, with her husband Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., the opposition leader, being assassinated as he stepped off a plane in 1983. She was suddenly thrust into a very different role.

Her presidency was not perfect, but what she did was to bring a gift to the table that echoed around the world. Freedom is like that. What happened in eastern Europe in the late 1980s is one of her legacies. The relatively non-violent overthrow of Soviet-style communism (and the ending of the Cold War), beginning in Poland, moving on to Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, can be traced to the inspiration of Corazon Aquino, and what she called “Prayer Power.”

Here is a short excerpt from a 1995 University of Oregon Commencement Address given by Corazon Aquino:

I found in public service qualities I did not think I had, and because of Prayer Power, reserves and strength and faith I never suspected. Perhaps, not all of us can do it all the time. And I am greatly relieved to be able to live my own life again. But I believe we must all serve others some time. Service to others, service to our communities, and to our brothers and sisters throughout the world can be fulfilling and addictive. The next time your neighbor, your community or someone somewhere in a country less fortunate than your own calls for help and tempts you again to serve – take my advice – just say yes and find yourself.

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Boy and a River

Little L by the Crooked River

We enjoyed the most wonderful morning at Smith Rock State Park a few days ago. There by 7:30 a.m. to avoid the scorching afternoon sun, we hiked, played, and splashed our way around to the backside of the mountain.

My children all had a fun time, especially the youngest. Big-eyed and four years old, Little L looked right out of Norman Rockwell’s sweet scenes of idyllic American childhood.

balancing on a rockBalancing on a rock, he peers into the shimmering Crooked River, on the verge of discovering his own reflection. He eventually collected a shell, a feather, and a crawdad leg.

Will he remember this moment? Perhaps when he’s a young man passing a river he will have a sense of joy that can’t be explained, and when he’s an old man he will recall this experience in nature with clarity, unable to resist the urge to skip a stone across the water.

discovering the river

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Get out while you still can!

Note to rootbound plants: Get out while you still can!

I planted dozens of seeds in little plastic containers, wanting a head start on the short growing season in my region.

The weather warmed up but I got busy. The seedlings outgrew their tiny containers and were silently begging to be placed in the spacious garden where their roots could dig down deep. Instead, the roots grew the only way they could in their rigid pots – in circles.

The day finally came when I had time to transplant these precious seedlings into the garden. They had already looked wan and peaked, but surely, I thought, they would be fine in the garden. I had so much hope, but to my sorrow, every one of them died within days. I remembered how lively and promising they had looked those first days of breaking through the soil.

With no way for the circular roots to quickly retrain and move into the surrounding dirt of the garden bed, my plants gave up and faded away. Had I been an experienced gardener, perhaps I could have worked with the root ball, done some corrective root pruning, and sent them on their healthy way. Alas.

I made a mental note to myself. If ever the circumstance is such that I am like a vigorous new plant trapped in a too-small and unyielding pot, running in circles for lack of latitude and destined for stunted growth, I need to make immediate exit plans if I want to survive.

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The French Revolution and the Marquis de Lafayette

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. July 14, 2009 marks the 220th anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. The French Revolution lasted about six to ten years, depending on who you ask. And the Marquis de Lafayette is involved in another revolution, having returned from a successful round in the American Revolution.

I wrote about Lafayette’s triumph in the American Revolution, and while he returned to France a hero in 1792, the embodiment of hope for France and a French Revolution, he did not live to see France become an independent republic.

Lafayette had seen what revolution could accomplish. He had witnessed the freedoms enjoyed by the new America. His legacy could be that he brought this light to France, but he ended up losing the public’s confidence and becoming an ineffective revolutionary.

In the years leading up to 1789, Lafayette became a leader in the campaign against the monarch. But here is what I think went wrong. First, the French had been too horribly oppressed for too long. The revolutionary movement became extremely radical and vengeful, and Lafayette didn’t know how to turn this raw, bitter force into something controllable and beneficial. He went for a more moderate course, and this ended up killing his popularity and driving him into exile. I think an extraordinary person was required for this job, one who could move beyond the compromise of a constitutional monarchy into true democracy. Someone with preeminent diplomatic skills who could harness lightning like Benjamin Franklin.

Second, when Lafayette became a member of the French legislature, he wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (similar to the Declaration of Independence), and I believe he made a grave error. While the declaration stands as monumental in terms of setting forth fundamental human rights for all men, a first for France, it makes no mention of God as the source of human rights. The U.S. Declaration of Independence asserts that human rights are derived from the “Creator” and the duty of government is to protect these God-given rights.

The problem I see with not being specific about the source of human rights is that it de facto becomes the realm of the state. France struggled in emerging from the French Revolution with a democratic republic firmly in hand in part because France, while willing to completely turn its back on the Ancien Régime, the old order, it held onto bits that denied true God-given human rights. The country suffered through the bloody Reign of Terror, in which the guillotine was used for mass execution of “enemies of the revolution,” then France allowed herself to be swept under the dictatorship of Napoléon for a time, and then a constitutional monarchy under Louis Philippe (unfortunately and regretfully with the help of the Marquis de Lafayette).

The first stable republican government wouldn’t happen in France until almost a hundred years after the French Revolution began, the Third Republic, and even this was wrought with crises and controversies. France is now in the Fifth Republic.

The Marquis de Lafayette did continue to fight for democracy for France and his dying desire was for a pure republic in France. No two revolutions are the same and Lafayette is blessed among men in history to have lived through the many uprisings and changes in paradigms.

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She’s a Biologist

JJ showing lizard to bro and sis“Mommy, can I cut the lizard open?” JJ questioned very matter-of-factly. She had just come in from checking on her latest lizard, a big fat one she was sure was pregnant with dozens of eggs. She had felt little bumps inside the bulging belly of the western fence lizard, and this eight-year-old child with a bent for biology made the expectant diagnosis.

Sadly, she discovered this morning that her lizard was dead. She was curious. And maybe she could save the eggs. Frankly, I know nothing about lizard anatomy and may not know a lizard egg if I saw one. But I’m sure this girl would know. She has an instinctive nature when it comes to the study of living things. She loves animals, and her desire to cut open the lizard is inquisitive not cruel.

“That’s a-skusting!” cried the little brother. “Not while we’re making muffins!” asserted the little sister.

JJ brought me a paring knife. She’s a persistent girl, a trait that alternately drives us crazy and makes us proud. Am I ready for a dissection? Do I let her explore?

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Posted in family life, parenting, science, the ranch | 8 Comments

Baseball Giveaway

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But, baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again. ~Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams

It’s time for another sports giveaway. I haven’t done one in a long time, but judging from the hundreds of hits I still get on my old sports contests, folks like them. And baseball is the theme, given the season is well underway and what is summer without baseball? What is America without baseball?

Today in baseball history, Satchel Paige was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1906. On his 42nd birthday, July 7, 1948, he was signed by the Cleveland Indians, a historic first for this amazing veteran Negro League pitcher. What a birthday gift. In honor of this great moment from the archives of baseball, TeamMASCOT.com is giving away a baseball.

Visit the TeamMASCOT baseball page to pick your team, and leave a comment right here on this post by Saturday, June 11, including your team choice. Two winners will be randomly chosen. Be sure to leave an email for me to contact you. Your information is secure and is never shared.

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The American Revolution and the Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette, Baptism by fire, by Edward Percy Moran, 1909They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and the story of the Marquis de Lafayette fits this expression well. His is the tale of a teenage orphan who travels to a foreign land to offer his services in a David versus Goliath type battle. Winning that battle, he returns to his homeland where he is a key player in the French Revolution.

Historians all agree on the fact that without the significant economic and military aid of the French government, the fledgling United States of America would have likely lost the Revolutionary War against the British. And this particular Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, was perhaps the most crucial piece of French support.

Born in 1757 as Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, he suffered the death of his father before he was two years old and the death of his mother at age 12. His family belonged to the French nobility, so he was left with quite a fortune. In addition, at the age of sixteen, he married into the very wealthy de Noailles family. There was no need to seek fame and fortune in a faraway land on a dangerous mission, so why on earth would this young man, only 19 years old, be so resolved to volunteer for the colonies in the American cause of freedom, a land he had never seen, a people he did not know?

I’m sure the reasons for Lafayette’s service in the American Revolutionary War are complex, and I’ve tried to search out some of his motives. The first thing that comes to mind is his youth. While at first glance it’s his age that strikes me as so uncommon for such a glorious cause, there is also a freshness and vigor and sense of invincibility that comes with youth. However, he did have a wife and young son he left behind when he first landed near Charleston, South Carolina in June of 1777. Being orphaned at a young age and married with child certainly matures one beyond his years. There must be more.

I turned to the issue of revenge. I considered the tragedy of his father’s death–his father was killed by a British cannonball during the Seven Years’ War. For a young man who likely longed to know his father and who he must have revered as a hero, I wondered if Lafayette had found vengeance for his father’s death. To support the American cause of liberty was to defy and destroy British domination. Revenge can only carry one so far, however, and reflecting on how Lafayette put his very life on the line, as well as spending his personal fortune to buttress the American forces, I searched still deeper.

When considering the whole of Lafayette’s life, well beyond the American Revolution, I found in him a profound and immense freedom-fighting spirit that must have propelled him even from youth. Were the American Revolution just about personal glory or youthful fantasy, Lafayette’s quest would have likely ended there. However, as we see him fight for representative government in the French Revolution, it’s clear that Lafayette was one of those unique persons in human history who was born to fulfill an instinctive yearning for freedom, no matter the time or place.

Independence and self-government are ideals that simply resonated with Lafayette. As he served under General George Washington, these two men developed a life-long friendship and considered one another as father and son. Great people like these do find each other, invisibly drawn together by the same passion and intellect.

Lafayette participated in key battles of the Revolution, including those at Brandywine and Yorktown. In addition to military expertise, he exercised great diplomacy in convincing the king of France to increase his support in substantial excess of his original intent.

As Americans celebrate their Independence, I do hope they remember France and one particular Marquis de Lafayette.

sources:
Lafayette, Hero of the American Revolution
Who Served Here? The Marquis de Lafayette

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Hello Summer

JoJo says hello

Hello Summer! We’re done being sick and we are ready to enjoy this beautiful world. I’m listening to Little L read a book to himself, I’m feeling anticipation about the days ahead, I’m smelling the fresh garden dirt, and I’m seeing a clear blue sky out the window.

Little L with Tawny

Today, I need to accomplish: cleaning all the bathrooms, vacuuming the upstairs hall and guest room, washing about five loads of laundry, and supervising the kids’ chores. I have a visit from Elisabeth today, the gal who arranges the French Exchange Program. I’m also expecting a friend from out of town to stop by on her way through to Idaho.

What’s on your plate today? Many blessings to you as we head into a celebration of Independence this weekend!

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Stomach Flu tonic?

My family has been hit hard by a stomach flu virus. First, it was my oldest son on Monday night. Then the youngest son on Wednesday night–throwing up every 20 minutes for four hours. Myself on Thursday night. Hubby Saturday morning. We’re dropping like flies. It’s a horrible, stomach churning, vomiting, exhausting kind of thing.

On Friday afternoon, when I finally felt like I could ingest something, I really wanted Gingerale or 7-Up, but there was none around. I found a liter of Club Soda in the pantry and decided to experiment. First, I made a vanilla soda for myself, and my stomach was pleased. Here’s what I did:

Jen’s Vanilla Soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup club soda

This morning, my stomach still not normal, I tried another recipe and liked this even better:

Jen’s Lemon Soda
1/3 cup concentrated lemon juice
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 cups club soda

There’s my stomach flu tonic for you–both of these calmed down my seething tummy and tasted fabulous, too. If you’re healthy and don’t need a flu tonic, just spoon a few scoops of ice-cream on top and have a delicious dessert drink.

Do you have any family recipes for easing the pain of the stomach flu? Please share, I have at least one more person to nurse through this.

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Little of This and That: Train, Garden, France.

Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing dads out there! I have a little of this and that to write about today.

TRAIN.
First, here’s one of my favorite pictures from my photofiles:

Mt. Emily Train engineer

A little train depot we pass nearly every day had a surprise for us one fall afternoon last season. The regular train was on vacation, and this beautiful steam powered locomotive, called the Mount Emily Shay #1, was there to greet us. Built in 1923, she worked for 30 years on a logging railroad in southern Oregon, then spent some time in West Virginia running tourists on the Cass Scenic Railroad. The “lockie” has since been retired to the Oregon Historical Society, which leases #1 to the City of Prineville Railway to occasionally pull its Crooked River Dinner Train.

There’s the facts, and for you train lovers, you will appreciate the history. My kids appreciated the power and beauty up close.

The Kids and Mt. Emily Shay #1

GARDEN.
I spent yesterday in the garden with the kids at my side. It was a treasured time. After moving my plants in and out of the house for weeks, and waiting for the last frost to come and go, I decided the time was perfect for their new home. Turned out it was a day late. The night before, I left the plants in the garage. There was a mouse. It ate the tops off the cucumbers. The peas were munched. The pumpkins were stubs.

I transplanted what I could into the garden, and reseeded almost everything. I may not have enough days to make it to harvest before a fall frost, but I’m taking my chances. No matter the outcome, I love working with my kids in the garden.

My husband shared my pain over those lost seedling leaves. He found a Maine Coon Cat on Craigslist. Apparently this enormous (seriously, it’s like a dog) feline mouser is the thing to have, and there’s a free one in Springfield, Oregon. To further protect against critters, he’s out right now putting boards around the bottoms of the garden, and I’ll be joining him shortly to help place rocks around the garden base.

FRANCE.
I’m so excited to be hosting another French Exchange Student. Helen comes in July. Do you remember when we hosted Elise? My kids still talk about our time with her, and it’s an enriching experience that I highly recommend for every family. So, as we prepared for Elise, we are now preparing for Helen.

Getting her room cleared out is the number one priority. It currently holds several dozen boxes of …. stuff. I love having a pressing reason to get things cleaned up! I mean it.

After having Elise as our guest, I also realized that the French have a certain expectation about food. Like, it should be prepared at home, not acquired at the drive-up window or in a frozen cardboard box. So, I need to get my menu in order.

Finally, language lessons are always fun for me, so the kids and I will spend some more time with French lessons. But that’s not a huge concern, since I already figured out with Elise that these Europeans nearly always speak English better than we will ever speak their language.

As far as activities, we just plan on living our normal life. The expectation of this particular exchange group is to just have an immersion experience with an American family as they go about their day. I will certainly show her some highlights of Central Oregon, but I have no plans beyond that.

Do you want to host a French exchange student? If you live in Central Oregon, get ahold of me right away, because there are still a few students needing to be placed here immediately.

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Posted in family life, features, france/french, the ranch | 7 Comments

Just in from the Great Lakes

I so wish I could sit down and write all the wonderful details of my trip to Port Huron, Michigan, but I have too many pressing duties at the moment. But, so I don’t forget, I’m making myself a short list of a few of the highlights.

1. Continental Airlines still serves meals.
2. I saw my great-great grandpa’s wood carvings of all the presidents (through Hoover) and they belong in a museum.
3. The St. Clair River is still brilliant blue.
4. I collected seashells and rocks along Lake Huron.
6. I remembered why I love the Great Lakes–just a feeling I get at the shore.
5. Six of us cousins stayed up talking ’til 3 a.m. one night. Who knew they were all terrified of my mom’s painting of a ragdoll, so much so that one cousin once slept in the bathtub at Grandma’s to avoid walking back up the stairs and passing the horrid thing.
7. Listening to my cousins speak at my Aunt Beth’s memorial was incredible.
8. My cousin Amy playing the bagpipes at the memorial was a tender moment.
9. My Uncle Marshall’s ham radio–an 83 year old trying to call Australia, but unable to remember how to make the connection; it was a mixture of hilarity and sadness.
10. Meeting the captain/builder of the Earth Voyager, the fastest sailboat on the Great Lakes, was a spontaneous moment. He’s getting the rig ready for the Port Huron to Mackinaw Island sailboat race.
11. I felt instantly at home when I was driving down I-94 out of Detroit and saw the giant tire.
12. I slept in a room full of ten thousand books–all murder mysteries. How I slept so soundly is the mystery. My Aunt Pat is a collector. She wants to add another room on their house just for her books.
13. Lunch at the River Crab in St. Clair was a treat, eating Atlantic Salmon while watching the freighters and sailboats pass by our window.
14. I wished a hundred times that my kids were with me so they could have met all their cousins.

That’s all I have time for–blessings on your weekend!

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PAX

I fly out of PDX (Portland International Airport) soon, not to be confused with PAX (Latin for peace). It’s PAX that’s on my mind, even as I prepare to board that flight out of PDX to attend a memorial service for my aunt.

As I listened to a friend of mine speak this morning about attaining peace, I closed my eyes and imagined myself approaching the throne of God with every care in the world bulging in my arms. With each step, I laid something down. First, my big box of “school stuff” I bring home every night, from papers that need grading to literature books waiting for lesson plans to emerge. I took another step toward the throne and cast aside my cell phone with all its distractions and bad news. My house was dumped, my laundry, the future of my children, my finances, every anxious thought.

There are so many thoughts and fears that can crowd my mind. I have to be conscious of these words:

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Colossians 3:15

Peace of Christ to you.

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Memorial Day: taking a minute to write

Life has been incredibly busy, but I wanted to take a minute and record the days.

Memorial Day weekend has been wonderful. Family came to visit from the valley, and my kids enjoyed some precious times with their cousins and grandma and uncle. Lots of dirt and many baths later, we said our goodbyes.

Today, I took the kids for a bike ride down the gravel drive and onto an old BLM road. We stopped to pick cattails and JJ found a 1966 quarter half-hidden on the dusty trail. Further down, we came upon an old campsite of some former cowboys or pioneers – actually, that is the children’s hope, because it was likely just a place where many decades ago, people dumped their trash.

Here are a few photos I’d like to share:

Riley on watch
Our dog, Riley, is turning out to be an extraordinary guard. He finally found the job he needed, being a cattle dog with no cattle to herd. The jackrabbits and the deer keep him busy. And the four children. Except for his dangerous habits of chasing cars, biting tires, and jumping on people, he’s mellowing out nicely and we look forward to many years with him at the ranch.

evening sky
This view out the kitchen to the east is lovely, especially with the late afternoon long shadows. You can see Riley on the move here, enjoying some playtime.

Dad and big L building fence
I mentioned my husband building a garden structure a few weeks ago. I found this photo of him and Big L working together to string the wire around the juniper trunks he used for posts. We are getting a vision for this place and look forward to a good harvest. I spent much of yesterday preparing my garden beds for the vegetable starts that are still in my mud room. According to the OSU gardening calendar, I can plant outdoors this week or next. Finally!

JoJo and Little L rock climbing
Like all my children, JoJo and Little L love to explore. This rock down the cliff at the end of our property provides a scenic lookout. I remember climbing in the mountains near my own home as a child, and those are probably my fondest childhood memories. There were legends abounding about the grave of Chief Cochise being somewhere in these Apache mountains where I grew up, and that just added to the excitement of every childhood hike and mountain climbing excursion.

Cochise died after a long illness on June 8, 1874. Tom Jeffords was at his side near the end, and witnessed his interment in a crevice in the rocks of the Dragoon Mountains, near Cochise Stronghold, Arizona. Only his band and Tom Jeffords knew the site. They took this knowledge to their own graves, telling no one of the place where Cochise had been buried. (from findagrave.com)

I think my children will have their own fanciful notions about this land where we now live, and I hope they share these impressions with me as they grow up.

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A bowling lesson

I took my sixth graders bowling several weeks ago and was reminded of something about the Lord. One of my students said, “Mrs. T., do you want to bowl with me?” I wasn’t officially bowling because I wanted to be available to float around and watch over all the kids. But this child let me in on his game, and even though I threw a few gutter balls on him, he invited me back!

God spoke to me about my position with Him. How gracious and merciful of the Lord to keep inviting us back into His “game” and His calling and kingdom work, even though we throw gutter balls now and again.

[He adopted us] to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:6

It’s by His grace. Not by any merit of our own that we receive God’s favor. I am not invited to partner with the Lord because I have a perfect game–whether I bowl a 300 or a 30, I have still been “chosen in Him, before the foundation of the world” and I am loved no more or no less for the game (Eph. 1:4). This is truly glorious, as many versions put it, “glorious grace.”

I love Ephesians chapter 1. It’s a passage that I read to my firstborn nearly every night while he was still in the womb–it’s a passage you would truly want someone to speak over you, believe me. If you or someone you care about struggles with feeling a condition on the love granted to him/her, Ephesians 1 is a great place to begin correcting that. These are such soul affirming words, and my bowling lesson the other day reminded me of this.

I don’t want you to have to look too far for these life-giving, power-filled, blessing-bestowing words, so here is Ephesians Chapter One in its entirety:

Ephesians 1

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

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Be blessed as you serve

God is meeting you and has some things to teach you even as you are ministering to others. It’s not just about teaching the kids. Be open to and be prepared for the Lord’s ministering over you.

When I was with the doctor a few weeks ago, as he was fixing up JoJo (who needed a tick removed, eeewww), he still turned to me and said, “How about YOU? Any questions, anything for you, how are you?” So the doctor turned his attention to me and set me up with a regimen for some physical things I’m dealing with…”You need magnesium, Vitamin D, Potassium!” God was meeting me right in the midst of my ministry to others (which in fact has exhausted me).

Galations 5:13 says through love serve one another. This is a command from the Lord, but there is a blessing attached to our service. The servant will be first in Heaven, and it’s important in this life to set our eyes on Eternity. Mathew 20:16 states that “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28).

What are some spiritual blessings that you would like, if you could pick? I think I would like the blessings of wisdom and faith, which are connected in a way: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8)

Wisdom comes through experience, and often through serving and enduring difficulty. Knowing this should increase your joy as you serve, knowing that the blessing is great! James goes on to say that “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

Be blessed today.

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I organized my silverware drawer.

Yes, this seemingly insignificant task has been a grand fait accompli for me. It really does deserve a blog post. The pantry was neatly arranged as well. People, it’s been two years of utensil chaos glaring up at me each time I pulled open the kitchen drawers. Tongs and blades entangled, threatening to wage war against my tender fingers, retribution for my failure to make a place and mark a separate territory for these unique instruments–now, here is fork, over there is knife, and yet another compartment for spoon.

I even called my husband to tell him the news. “Honey, I picked up a stainless steel silverware tray at Goodwill for two dollars, and some pantry shelves at the neighbor’s garage sale.” He shared in the joy, and if you’ve lived with disheveled drawers yourself, you’ll know the thrill. The whole kitchen makeover took all of an hour, but it felt like a million bucks. I never realized I had five can openers.

So, if you need a wave of inspiration in your day, you know what to do.

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Fun with Seeds and Seedlings

vegetable startsWe are watching the vegetable starts every day, the children with intense wonder at the new growth, me with a mix of hope and apprehension– will we succeed in this gardening adventure? The sunflower in this photo has been the subject of the greatest amazement, as my son was standing right in front of it when the shell of the seed popped right off the plant as the seedling stretched its tender leaflets in a show of force.

All of these cups of seed and soil are sitting in our sunny mud room, busily sprouting in preparation for the big move to the outdoor garden after the last frost. Whether we will time the transition correctly, have the proper soil amendments, possess a well fortified fence to keep out the ever encroaching deer and jackrabbits, and be left with sufficient growing time for full maturation of the vegetables, all remains to be seen. Central Oregon is not a gardening paradise and there are odds to overcome, but it’s not impossible (even though my neighbor says it is). This is our beginning.

our garden fence
My husband recently built me a garden area. Can you make it out in this picture? I came home from a weekend away, and he and the kids made me close my eyes and led me out the back door to this sight that thrilled me. He had limbed up enough Juniper trees that were laying around the property, set them in post holes with cement left over from our building project, and only had to buy the wire fencing.

He still needs to build the gate, secure the bottom with boards, and string some baling wire at the top to deter the deer which can easily jump a 6 foot fence. We also have to bring in a ton of compost and nutrient rich soil, but I can see the finished product, and it’s beautiful. I’m sure you are getting the picture that gardening can be a lot of hard work, but it’s best to know the challenges before you begin. For a no-nonsense look at this from someone who has years more experience than I, read The Joys and Trials of Caring for your Seedlings.

Here are some tips on gardening in Central Oregon from the Oregon State Extension Service:

Although it may not be a gardening paradise, central and eastern Oregon is more than a wide expanse of high desert. Successful vegetable and fruit gardening is possible east of the Cascades if you take into account the area’s special and widely varying climate and soil characteristics.

The growing season may be as short as 80 to 90 days in central Oregon at elevations above 3,500 feet. In some of the lower elevations and river valleys, growing seasons may exceed 130 days.

Also, large fluctuations in daytime and nighttime temperatures, often as much as 40-45°F, affect vegetable and fruit production. Cool nights reduce the chances of successfully growing vegetables that like warm nights, such as lima beans and eggplants. (See story on growing warm-season crops in cool-season area.)

Soil types

Soil types in central and eastern Oregon vary widely. Light-textured soils, low in organic matter, nutrient content, and water-holding capacity, are found in parts of central Oregon and the eastern Columbia Basin area. These soils may require frequent applications of fertilizer and water. At the other extreme are the heavy soils high in soluble salts (which can create an alkalinity problem) found in many eastern Oregon areas.

Added organic matter such as manure or compost generally is beneficial for most central and eastern Oregon soils. (See story on improving soil.) Specific information for each area is available from county offices of the OSU Extension Service or from local garden centers.

Choosing crops

Concentrate on those vegetables adapted to your particular area. Avoid planting vegetables that require special, intense, or improved growing conditions. Root crops (e.g., potatoes, carrots, and beets) and cold-tolerant crops (e.g., cabbage, chard, leaf lettuce, and kohlrabi) do well in high-elevation gardens.

Short-season vegetable varieties offer the best chance of success. For example, cool nights during the growing season may cause a 65-day tomato to require 75 to 80 days or more to mature.

Planting dates

Planting dates for high-elevation, short-season areas generally lag behind those in other parts of the state. In high areas, gardens usually are planted from mid-May, for cold-tolerant plants, to mid-June. Later plantings often fail to mature before fall frosts. See the story on planting guidelines for suggested planting dates.

Use plant protection devices, such as row covers, hotcaps, and Walls-o-Water, to extend the growing season for vegetables requiring longer periods to mature.

Now, on to some fun seed activities to do with children. These three ideas are from The Family Game Book (1967, Doubleday-out of print). I think these are appropriate projects for all elementary grades. I just planted vegetable starters with my sixth graders (as well as my own children), and from ages 4 through 12, they all were totally engaged. One of my sixth grade students called me at home a few nights ago just to tell me how beautiful her new plants were!

1. See how seeds actually grow.

When a seed is buried in the ground, you can’t see exactly what is happening to it. Here is a simple experiment you can perform to watch the seed develop into a little plant.

Get a sheet of clean blotting paper or a small sponge. Put the paper or sponge in a drinking glass so that it is pressing against one side of the glass. Fill the other side of the glass with gravel or sand. This should press the blotting paper or sponge tightly against the glass.

Now get some fast-growing seeds like lima beans. Force them between the blotting paper and the glass. They should be pressing tightly against the glass so that you can see them through the glass. If the seeds don’t stay in place, you do not have enough sand or gravel in your glass, as its purpose is to keep the seeds in place.

Keep the blotting paper or sponge moist. In a few days you will see the seeds sprout roots. These are called root hairs. They help absorb food for the plant. After the roots become longer, carefully transfer your seeds to a dirt-filled flowerpot or even the garden–if it is warm enough. You will have a little bean plant. Just think how much you will know about this particular little plant!

2. How strong are seeds?

A rock is broken in two, and a healthy tree is growing in the split. Have you ever seen such a sight–a tree growing in a rock?

Perhaps you have seen a sidewalk with a crack in it, and a plant growing through it. Chances are that the seed of the plant split the sidewalk. It’s hard to believe, but here’s an experiment to prove that seeds can really exert great force.

Get a small flat bottle. An empty medicine bottle will do. Pack the bottle right up to the very top with dried beans, for beans are really seeds. Get a piece of cloth and tie it over the top of the bottle in place of the cap. Stand the bottle upside down in a glass partly filled with water.

Watch your bean bottle from time to time, and in a day or so you will discover that the bottle has burst. The beans soak up all the water and become swollen. As they swell they push against the walls of the bottle, and when they push hard enough the bottle bursts.

That is what happened to the rock and the sidewalk. Do you believe it now?

3. How important are the plant’s first leaves?

By now you have had some experience with plants. Have you noticed that all the different kinds of seeds you planted (flower and vegetable) start growing with the same kind of leaves? They all have what look like two thick leaves that dry up and fall off when the seedling develops other leaves. Have you ever wondered what these first leaves do?

A little experiment will answer this question. Plant three quick-growing seeds, such as bean or cucumber seeds, in a flowerpot. Water them and one day you will notice you have three little plants, all with the same two first leaves, which are called cotyledons.

Now, leave one seedling exactly as it is. From the second seedling, cut off one leaf. From the third, cut off both leaves. Continue to take care of your plants and you will discover something interesting. The seedling from which you cut off both leaves will be very small. The seedling with one leaf cut off will be a little larger. The seedling you did not touch will be the largest and healthiest.

From this experiment you can gather that the cotyledons are storehouses for the young plant and should fall off only when the plant is strong enough to get nourishment by itself. Losing first leaves too soon hampers a plant’s growth.

I hope you enjoy your seeds and seedlings this spring! Do your homework on best growing practices for your region, and don’t forget to have fun with the kids along the way. There are so many life lessons and spiritual truths to be learned from planting a garden.

Related post: Gardening With Children

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But God Is

Hello, friends. I’ve been learning lately about this mysterious property of the God-human relationship: in our weakness, He is strong. I think this concept must be outside of the laws of physics. Shouldn’t a weak link break the chain? Here are my thoughts as I sit after a long and taxing day (oh, it’s tax day!):

My little boy’s babysitter quit today because he’s too difficult. But God is the shepherd of our hearts and His Spirit brings correction.

I’m overwhelmed with caring for my family while my husband is away working. But God is my husband and strong tower.

I have financial concerns pressing in. But He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and my inheritance is rich as a child of the King.

I was invited to the Democratic Republic of Congo for a missions outreach and the very thought scares me. But He is Lord of the Nations.

I feel unorganized, unproductive, and unable. But He set the order of the universe and made something out of nothing.

I am tired and discouraged and ready to fall. But He gives rest to the weary and hope to the hopeless; He holds my foot so it doesn’t slip.

I am not smart enough, brave enough, or bold enough to do the tasks before me. But He is all-wise, and the wind and waves obey His commands as He valiantly walks on water.

I am weak. But He is strong.

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Reflections on the Resurrection

I helped my 9 year old son plant part of his garden today (indoors in little planters until the last frost). He carefully dropped seeds into the fresh, rich soil– carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, watermelon, radishes, pumpkin, sunflowers, corn, peas, and a few others. Wow, we’ll see how it all does in this tough growing climate.

But, I was thinking about that little seed the whole time. AMAZING, that tiny seed that is SO powerful that it can be life giving and fruit producing. What a fantastic representation of the RESURRECTION power of Jesus Christ. It looks like this dead, dry little ball, and yet with the aid of some water, sunshine, and good earth, has the force to manufacture this product which can sustain a human being with its harvest! I just can’t get over how mind-blowing that is! How can something bigger than itself be brought forth out of dirt? How can something come from nothing?

When this son of mine was in-utero, God led me to a certain passage which I read over him almost daily. It was Ephesians Chapter 1. Recently, I heard a sermon on this scripture, and as I realized that I knew it so well that I could almost predict what the pastor would say next, I recalled this season of prayer and intercession over my firstborn.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1: 18-23

I’m sitting here marveling at how God in His wisdom and foresight brings all things together in His time. I have this swirl of thoughts and memories…visiting OMSI at ten weeks into my pregnancy and seeing the developing baby exhibit, realizing for the first time the fullness of life that was inside me. Attending an outdoor sunrise Easter service when I was about 10 years old, shivering on a hard chair with childlike wonder at the thought of the risen Christ, somehow symbolized in the sun rising over the Arizona mountains in all its brilliant colors. Wondering at how little seedlings poking up through a sidewalk could have had enough power to crack the concrete. All of these reflections are tied to the power, the potency of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Did you catch the promise in Ephesians chapter 1? The Resurrection power of Jesus Christ is available for those who believe!! Do you understand the kind of power it takes to raise someone from the dead?? It is power over sin and death. Power over every fear, sickness, unbelief, bad habit, and inherited disease. This assurance brings hope beyond belief.

I hope you have a transforming Resurrection Sunday~many blessings to you!

Jen @ diaryof1.com

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Finding My Inner Amish

This was a scheduled post to fit into my April theme~a magical, simple, and refreshing time of renewal. The dream began a few weeks ago with the gift of an Amish friendship bread starter. You take care of the dough starter for about ten days, then split it into four new starters (three to give away, one to keep) and bake a batch of the sweet bread for yourself.

This enchanting, pastoral scene led to an all day baking session with a friend to stock up on meals and fill our freezers for those days when company is coming or time is scarce. We even wore cute aprons. I became delusional that I was born for baking and meal planning and living, well, sort of like the Amish. Simple, slow, homemaking and picking daisies.

(Excuse me while I go pull a frozen pizza out of the oven.) However, at this moment, I’m finding that I have no inner Amish and it would be all but deceitful to write such a post. I’ve had a rough few days and maybe rougher ones ahead. My house is a disaster with clothes, toys, and random items strewn helter-skelter like a really bad hair day. I feel far from the peaceful Amish that I picture in my mind’s eye.

I passionately miss my husband, who’s working out of town, my live-in mother is convinced the house will burn down just because a bad battery sent every alarm screaming through the night, and the dog has worms (the cat is suspect as well). I have parent-teacher conferences in two and a half days and a performance evaluation in one. And I can’t even come up with three more friends to give the next batches of Amish friendship bread starters to.

If you find my inner Amish, you can send it packing to Pennsylvania, because it would not be at home here.

I’m so glad that next week I get to celebrate the Resurrection, and, as you can see in my sidebar excerpt, I’m hoping for the power of the living Christ to be at work in me. I NEED it to be, and I hope (I know) that the resurrected Christ is more meaningful than my Amish fantasy.

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Swimming in April?

I thought I was celebrating spring, not summer. But I have brave kids.

Water play in April

Central Oregon, April 5, 4:00 p.m., 66 degrees. I’m wearing a sweater. But blue sky, bright sun, and no wind all make for swimming in April, at least for these country kids.
JJ in the pool!It innocently began with chasing jackrabbits, then some water-play, soon followed by a child streaking in to ask for a cork to plug the pool and fill it. Being busy with paperwork, and seeing no harm, I acquiesced. I figured they’d be far too cold once the water started flowing and it would come to an abrupt end, but no, the splashing and shrieks of delight went on for at least an hour.

I love my daring young girls and boys!

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Hark, I hear a robin calling!

Le Poéme de l'åme-Le Printemps by Anne-François-Louise Janmot (1814-1892)

Hark, I hear a robin calling!
List, the wind is from the south!
And the orchard-bloom is falling
Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

In the dreamy vale of beeches
Fair and faint is woven mist,
And the river’s orient reaches
Are the palest amethyst.

Every limpid brook is singing
Of the lure of April days;
Every piney glen is ringing
With the maddest roundelays.

Come and let us seek together
Springtime lore of daffodils,
Giving to the golden weather
Greeting on the sun-warm hills.

–   Lucy Maud Montgomery, Spring Song

The painting above is called Le Poème de l’âme – Le Printemps (The Poem of the Soul – Spring) by Anne-François-Louise Janmot (1814-1892), and can be found at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France.

Are you hearing robins in your part of the world? I think Montgomery’s poem pairs perfectly with this painting, don’t you? I love Lucy Maud Montgomery, and in fact, just today, my daughter watched the Anne of Green Gables movie. Anyway, spring is in the air, and I do believe I have spring fever. Mark Twain describes it best:

It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!

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Excuse the mess

This blog is not an April Fool’s joke. Sorry about the mess up there on my header. I need my husband to fix it and he’s committed to other more critical programming projects for a few weeks, so we may have to live with it for a while.  

If you came expecting to see my new April theme, and could hardly stand the anticipation, I apologize for the let-down! I probably won’t write much until it’s fixed, for the same reason I don’t invite people over when the house is a disaster; it’s hard to see past the dirty dishes and appreciate the good conversation. Unless you’re a really good friend.   

Enjoy a lovely April! I plan on learning how to plant a vegetable garden that will succeed in Central Oregon, cleaning out my guest room, writing letters to my cousins, catching up on some French, and celebrating the risen Lord. What about you?

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It is for freedom we’ve been set free

JoJo down the drive

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galations 5:1

This is a verse that came my way today from two different sources. I don’t know what it means to you, but I wanted to share it with you. Part of it for me means being FREE and available for all God has for me. No eye has seen or mind can comprehend what God has prepared for those who love Him. And none of it is fully available when we are not free. So, I’ll be meditating on what this means for me and how I can obtain further freedom…from fear, exhaustion, unbelief, and anything else that I struggle with.

That’s my little JoJo in the photo exercising her freedom! Without a care and full of the joy of living, she pedals into the wind like a newly released balloon reaching for the skies.

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Expressive Social Studies

Oh boy, I’ll have to make this a quick post, but I hope to come back to this subject another time when I can deal with it more in depth. For now, here’s a short list of some methods I’ve had great success with in regards to bringing some life to the history and social studies lessons. I vary the method I use to add interest, and only do one of these at a time.

1. Act it out. As I read aloud the lesson from our textbook, I have my students stand at their desk and create motions to go along with the words. If we are studying about Alexander the Great crossing a vast desert on his way to conquer another nation, I’ve seen students galloping on their horses, brandishing swords, or taking a victory stance.

A word of caution–if you don’t want this to get too out of hand, let your students know ahead of time what the boundaries are. After dealing with kids racing around the room, falling to the floor with gasps and spasms as they “die,” and engaging in hand-to-hand combat, I had to make some rules! Extra points went to groups who acted silently (so as to hear the teacher), stayed behind their desks, and if they must die, they do so with a minimum of fanfare. Just sayin’.

2. Group skits. This is a modification of number 1 above. Instead of each student acting individually, I assign sections of the text to groups of 3-4 students (about 1-2 pages per group) and give them 15-20 minutes to come up with a skit to represent their section. This is not meant to be an extended project, and must be accomplished within that timeframe.

Each group has up to five minutes to present their skit, so with about five groups of students, this fills the social studies period. Twenty minutes to read their section and prepare the skit, plus 25 minutes of group presentations – 45 minutes. Much more fun than just reading and filling out a worksheet. And truly, the retention is miles beyond the traditional approach.

A note on the skits–visit with each group as they are preparing, and point out the main ideas that should make it into their skit. They will need some guidance o this, especially if they are new to this activity. Names of characters should be stated, location and date should be made known. As your students become familiar with what you require, the quality of their skits really improves.

3. Poetry. From prose to poetry is the goal here. When we go the poetry route, we read the chapter aloud, then I offer a poem starter to get the kids in the right frame of mind. I’ve been requiring just six lines of poetry for now, because this is a more difficult one for my kids. As they become more comfortable with this method, I would expect my students to write eight lines for every page of the lesson.

Let’s try a quick lesson here. Go the the Alexander the Great wikipedia page and read the intro. Write six lines of poetry. Here’s my poem, done in less than five minutes.

Alexander conquered the world
In his statue his hair looks curled

A Macedonian king of Greece
Skilled in war, elusive with peace

He spread Greek culture far and wide
The Hellenistic period was his pride

It’s amazing how much you have to examine the words and think about synonyms to turn prose into poetry. I think this is a method I will continue to explore!

4. Jeopardy! Who doesn’t love a good game? We read the lesson aloud to get the big picture. Then break into groups of three or four students each. Each student must write at least three Jeopardy questions, which are then submitted to me to choose from. Sometimes, to get good coverage, I will assign groups the pages their questions must come from. I also typically have them label their questions Easy, Medium, or Difficult.

On the whiteboard, I draw a modified Jeopardy game board, with group names and points. We play a simplified version of the TV game show.

Some other ideas for teachers to explore…reader’s theatre, songs, puppet shows. The bottom line for me is this: how can I engage my students in a subject that is typically called “boring” by a huge number of young people? I know how critical it is to know our history – how else can we know ourselves? History is anything but boring!

If you have some great ideas for spicing up the social studies, let me know. And do you have an Alexander the Great poem for me?

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boy and shovel

Little L and the shovels

A little boy must have a shovel or two to be truly happy, I think! What is it about digging that brings such satisfaction and sense of adventure?

Will I find a buried treasure? A forgotten city?
I must dig and dig, and when I’m done at the very least I’ll have a hideaway.

Have you noticed a fascination with upturning the earth in your own children? When you were a child, did you love to dig? Is it a child’s version of going out west or shooting to the moon, or any other unknown horizon to be explored?

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Inspired Book Reports: Lapbooking Where the Red Fern Grows

A fun, creative way to do book reports–it’s called a lapbook, or a folder full of mini-books to organize the main ideas and story elements of literature. The lapbook can be the whole book report for younger to middle ages, or a tool for gathering information as the student reads before he writes a formal report for upper grades.

I’d like to show you an example of a lapbook for Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I created this for my 6th grade students, and they are loving it. What I like most about the lapbook is the myriad of options available–all sizes, colors, shapes, and topics, all to be worked out according to the book and limited only by your imagination.

As a logistical note, I chose to make the entire lapbook right upfront, rather than make one mini book at a time, because with the way I set this up, the students are adding a bit to almost every mini book each day. You’ll need to gather two manila folders per child as well as the pre-printed templates which I’ll reference below (just follow the links). I would set aside two class sessions of 30-45 minutes each to set up the entire lapbook.

Start with a letter size manila folder. Open it up, and fold each flap into the middle and crease. And because I wanted an extra pocket in the back, I taped up the sides of a second manila folder and glued it to the back of the first folder. Here is what the lapbook looks like from the front:

Where the Red Fern Grows-front of lapbookAs you can see, your child or student can decorate the front cover and also include some mini-books. I chose to affix three pockets for what I call “character cards.”

I picked three main characters from Where the Red Fern Grows – Billy, Old Dan, and Little Ann, and as we read the book together in class, I prompt the students to stop and make notes on 3×5 notecards when they learn something new or important about each character. The 3×5 notecard must be folded in half or cut to fit into this pocket. Here are examples of student entries on their character cards:

Billy: (from Chapter 2) When he is ten years old, he gets infected with the “dog-wanting disease.” He is a real country boy, he knows every game trail and animal track, and is an excellent hunter.

Old Dan: (from Ch. 5) Larger than the girl dog and deeper red in color, and Billy notices right away that Old Dan is bold and aggressive.

Little Ann (from Ch. 5) Smaller and more timid, but Billy sees that she is very smart and sure of herself.

Here is the link to the template for the pockets.

Open up the lapbook and you’ll discover a treasure of little books:

Where the Red Fern Grows lapbook-inside

I’ll start on the left inside flap. There is an Author mini-book, called a rectangle petal book. On the four outside flaps I wrote the words birth, early childhood, writing, and my one regret. Under each of these flaps, the students are to write a sentence or two about Wilson Rawls on that subject. I handed out this study guide for Where the Red Fern Grows which includes information for several of the mini-books, including this author mini-book. By the way, Wilson Rawls’ one regret was that his father died before Wilson could show him a copy of his book.

Under the author book is “the Ozarks” mini-book (the hexagon mini simple fold book), which in a traditional book report would be the setting. In this little space, the students will share details such as how the Ozarks are a highland region, and in Where the Red Fern Grows, the part of the Ozarks described is in the northeastern section of Oklahoma. Thick forests of oak, hickory, pine, and maple, caves, mountain streams, and abundant wildlife should all be mentioned.

The wheel book under the Ozarks book is for Sequence of Events. It is divided into eight sections, and meant for students to think hard about boiling down the main events of the book into just a few steps. For example, the first event listed could be The adult Billy has a flashback to his childhood after rescuing a redbone hound. The second event could be Billy works hard for two years and earns money to buy his hounds.

Right away you probably noticed the bright, multi-colored layered book called Chapter Summaries. We made these out of colored construction paper following these easy instructions. This is where the students record a few concise sentences about each chapter as they go, touching on the main action, thus creating an entire summary of the book by the time they have completed the last chapter.

I cut off a smaller section of the original layered book and used it for the skinnier multi-colored layered book to the right called Fave Quotes and Phrases. I encouraged my students to be on the lookout for figurative, expressive language, for which Wilson Rawls is famous, fun plays on words, or thought-provoking quotes. Examples that made it into some student’s lapbook are:

(p.21) I felt as big as the tallest mountain in the Ozarks.
(p.40) …croaking like a bullfrog that had been caught by a water moccasin
(p. 88) …I wouldn’t blame the coon if he stayed in the tree until Gabriel blew his horn.

Under the chapter summaries is a Daily Journal, made using the same method as the chapter summary mini-book, except with plain paper. I typically give a writing prompt for this exercise, and here is an example of the prompt I wrote for Ch. 9:

Grandpa says, “I think it would be a good thing if all young boys had to cut down a big tree like that once in their life. It does something for them.” Do you agree with Grandpa, and why? Has there been something difficult you’ve had to accomplish that ended up increasing your courage?

The Book Report mini-book in the center of the lapbook is the most simple of them all. It’s a basic flap-book, and here is what’s under the cover – a place to record the nuts and bolts of the book: title, author, illustrator, publication date, setting, main character, and what I thought of the book.

Directly under the Book Report mini-book are two index card accordion books (very easy!). It’s hard to make out the writing, but they say Vocabulary Words. Listed here are words from each chapter the students may not be familiar with and should know. As you pull open the index card, there is a place for the student to write the words I’ve assigned, as well as their own personal list. Here is the word list from chapters 1-7 as an example:

allot v. to parcel out
cur n. inferior or undesirable dog; mongrel
fester v. to cause increasing poisoning or irritation
grit n. unconquerable spirit
mull v. to think over at length
muster v. to assemble; to gather
wily adj. full of cunning

A lapbook on Where the Red Fern Grows would not be complete without a mini-book on the coon! At the top right of the inside of the lapbook folder you’ll see the Raccoon flip-flap book. As you lift the cover of this mini-book, you’ll find three flaps to label, and under each flap the kids will write a description. For the coon book, the three labels I chose were Description, Behavior, and Eating Habits.

Another pocket is under the Raccoon book, labeled Spiritual Truths. Where the Red Fern Grows is chock full of biblical and moral truths and opportunities for spiritual growth. For example, after reading chapter 3 and learning how persistently Billy works for two years to earn the money for his hounds, students could write Proverbs 14:23 on an index card: In hard work there is always something gained, but idle talk leads only to poverty.

The final mini-book I’ve included in the lapbook for Where the Red Fern Grows is a must–a redbone coon hound book, and I chose the template of a T-book. Inside the flaps of this book are a square in the center for a picture of a redbone coon hound, and three other flaps for information about the breed. The study guide I mentioned earlier has a nice section on the redbone hound.

A word on attaching the mini-books to the base folder: Students either glued them down or stapled them. What happens if a student fills her journal and needs more room? She would pull off the mini-book, place it in the folder which is glued to the back of the lapbook, and make a new journal to affix into the lapbook. If you think you have wordy kids on your hands who will fill up their little books, think about attaching the mini-books with velcro for easy removal. The folder is also the depository where the student will empty out her pockets when they are full (the character cards and spiritual truth cards) to make room for more.

How does the teacher grade a lapbook? I periodically check on each student, walking about the room and inspecting a bit of each student’s book every day we use it, to ensure they are keeping on top of it. I also invite volunteers to share what they have written, which they enjoy tremendously. When we are finished with Where the Red Fern Grows, I will collect each student’s lapbook and grade each mini-book on a simple scale, giving an overall grade of up to 100%. The breakdown of points is as follows: All mini-books except the Chapter Summaries and Daily Journal receive up to 5 points each, and the Chapter Summaries and Daily Journal receive up to 20 points each.

That’s about it! I hope you were able to follow this lengthy description of a lapbook, and if you have any questions or ideas for improvements, please let me know. Where the Red Fern Grows is a fabulous book for a project like this, and is a book that should not be missed, whether you lapbook it or not.

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Happy 80th, Mom

Mom and her grandkidsMy mother is now officially an octogenarian. I pray the 80s will bring her peace, grace, beauty, and good health.

Here she is making her way down our driveway with a few of the kids this week, who love to go for walks with Grandma. Or be walked, as you can see a blue leash dangling by LIttle L’s legs, which he had attached to his belt loop for Grandma to “walk him.” She now limits herself to the long driveway for fear of getting lost in the forest. I must say, I do feel quite proud that our sometimes scraggly junipers qualify as a forest.

This poem she wrote over 50 years ago fits this scene and the future in heaven she looks forward to:

AN OLD FAMILIAR STREET

Will I suddenly find myself walking
Down an old familiar street,
That once had something lacking
But now is quite complete?

Will heaven be the earth again,
But me a different man–
With eyes to see things hidden now,
With wings to carry out a plan?

Will flowers be even sweeter then?
The wind at my command?
Will secrets fill me full of glee
That now I could not stand?

Will that day surely come
With its enchanting feat
When I’ll walk with distant friends
Down an old familiar street?

I don’t have any profound thoughts to write this morning in honor of my mother’s 80th birthday, just a few random memories from childhood:

She read to us often, and not the usual children’s stories, just whatever she happened to be reading. She loved books about the saints, Christian missionaries, animal stories, the Bible, biographies…

She planted a mint patch and would send us kids to pick mint for her tea. We’d eat some leaves along the way.

The Arbor was a special place to be. She built, along with my dad, a little arbor with a table and benches inside. Crawling up every side of the arbor were climbing vines of her favorite kind, of which I cannot remember the names but were special to her.

I remember discovering a nest of baby birds in the arbor – they loved it there, too.

For a year or two, my mom hosted a small poetry club in the arbor for my sister and me and our neighbor friends (mostly 6-10 year olds), and called it the Little Rhymers. I still have the poetry book she made for our club with its hand-stitched cover, filled with the endearing poetry of our little hands.

Her Boston Baked Bread was one of my favorites, as well as her homemade ice cream.

She was a most creative soul and I never realized the blessing of this until much later in life.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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The Masters and the Classics

“Get your journals ready,” I tell my 6th grade students every morning. From 8:00 to 8:10 a.m. most school days, I have a short piece of classical music on queue in the CD player, along with a work of art from one of the masters displayed on the music stand at the front on the classroom.

I feel that this beginning part of our day is perhaps the most important thing I do. I had to work hard to squeeze it in, because if you work for a school, you know that your schedule is very tight with all the other subject requirements and content you are obliged to cover in a given year. But the beauty this brings to my classroom is worth every bit of effort. Music feeds the soul, and art, well, a good long look at a masterpiece could be the equivalent of reading a 300 page classic novel.

I have to make clear that this 10-15 minute art/music journal time is meant to be a broad overview to simply expose kids to the greatest works of art and music of all time. I figure that by the end of the school year, they will have been introduced to more masterpieces than most adults ever will be familiar with.

On the whiteboard, there is a section on the left side reserved for the daily journal questions. In bold letters I write “Look” with little eyeballs in the o’s, followed by the title of the painting and the journal question. Below this I draw an ear icon next to the word “Listen,” along with the title of the musical piece and a query. Writing prompts help them to get started and stir up ideas. Here are a few examples of how it works:

Day 1:

LOOK: The Dancing Couple, by Jan Steen, 1663.

Journal Question: Jan Steen loved to paint life “as it is,” and used painting as storytelling. What details of this painting tell you that Steen captured daily life with all its messiness?
The Dancing Couple, by Jan Steen

(My students noticed broken eggshells strewn on the floor, a stray spoon, turned over containers, and a general chaotic, merry feeling.)

LISTEN: Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), from Classical Kids, Mr. Bach Comes to Call.

Journal Question: A fugue is when you have have more than one musical line going on at once, and they all use the same theme. It’s called imitative counterpoint. Bach is the prime example of the fugue. Can you hear the themes?

(I will generally have the kids write in their own words what a fugue is for this journal entry, otherwise it would simply be a yes or no answer.)

*****

Notice that the above painter and musician come from generally the same time period. I like pairing them like this. Even better is pairing the artist and the musician from the same country and time period, and aligning this with your history curriculum.

Day 2:

LOOK: Red Boats in Argenteuil, by Claude Monet, 1875

Journal Question: Pure black is rarely used by the impressionist painters. Monet would instead combine several colors to achieve the appearance of black: blues, greens and reds. What color are the shadows in this painting?

Argenteuil-(Red Boats)-Claude Money
LISTEN: Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, Introduction.

Journal Question: Write down each character and the musical instrument that corresponds to it. Which is your favorite?

*****

One of my proudest moments came earlier this year, just after the Super Bowl, actually. During the Super Bowl, a cute Coke commercial was aired, the one with the insects in a meadow who steal away with the sleeping guy’s Coca Cola. The entire commercial is set to just one sound, with no voices: the music from Peter and the Wolf. It was Peter’s theme, the most recognized piece of the composition.

That Monday, I asked my kids if any of them watched the Super Bowl and noticed the Coke commercial. A few of them made me jump for joy – Yes! they chimed in–it was Peter and the Wolf! A few parents even noted to me how surprised they were when their children recognized the tune. This small incident highlighted for me why I do what I do.

Now, I’d like to share some resources that make this art/music series possible and mostly FREE. I don’t have a written program I follow at this point, but I hope to develop one to make this much easier for teachers to replicate, along with journal questions for each piece. For now, I gather materials as I go, and decide about a week ahead of time what to present, trying to align this with our history/social studies units. Here’s a short list to get you started.

1. National Gallery of Art. Most folks are unaware that the National Gallery of Art has a free lending program. This has been invaluable to me! So far, almost all of my art, with the exception of some books I own, has come from this fabulous program. Most teaching packets come with a teachers guide, a CD of images, slides, and large color study prints. I sign up online for the programs I want, NGA ships them right to me at no cost, and I’m responsible only for the cost of returning them media mail. Can’t beat this.

If you don’t have a slide projector, look for one. Or just use the large prints. If you are fortunate enough to have a projector for your computer, you certainly have an easy job! Some of my favorite teaching packets so far have been:

Painting in the Dutch Golden Age
Picturing France (1830-1900)

2. Your local public library. This has been the source of nearly all my classical music for kids. If you have a collection built up already, you’re in luck. The most difficult part of the music for me was coming up with journal questions. I loved the classical kids CDs that incorporated a story with the music, because this made the journaling so much easier for the kids. This way, my questions can also be about details from the composer’s life, which are typically included in these CDs, or questions about the storyline if it’s an opera or ballet. Here are my favorites:

Famous Composers, written by Darren Henley, read by Marin Alsop.

Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, and Shostakovich make up this delightful introduction to FAMOUS COMPOSERS, an Audie-nominated production filled with re-enactments, musical excerpts, and facts on the six composers. (from AudioFile)

More Famous Composers, written by Darren Henley, read by Marin Alsop.

This delightful production focuses on portraits of Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rachmaninov, and contemporary artist Paul Williams. (from AudioFile)

Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, by Stephen Simon and narrated by Yadu.

Narrator Yadu sets up the classic story by introducing the characters and the individual musical themes that represent each one. His voice has an appealing storytelling quality but is not intrusive. The rich music itself, played by the London Philharmonic, directed by Stephen Simon, takes center stage. (from AudioFile)

The Story of Swan Lake, by Tchaikovsky, from Maestro Classics.

Featuring the London Philharmonic Orchestra with music conducted by Stephen Simon, and narrated by Yadu. Also includes a biography of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and a lesson about the music.

Classics for Kids

A fabulous website that you shouldn’t miss!! Podcasts, a musical dictionary for kids, pieces from all the famous composers at the click of a button, and online musical games are just a few of the outstanding features of this award-winning site.

I hope you’ve been encouraged today to devote some teaching time to the classics of art and music. Just a few minutes a day, with consistency, will achieve more than you can imagine. Some of you may have some other great resources to add to my short list – if so, let me know about them!

Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education. Plato

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

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Posted in arts & crafts, education, features | 12 Comments

Parakeet Morality

How parakeet breeding led me to thoughts on a great moral issue:

I stopped in the pet store yesterday to get some grit for the birds, to aid their digestion. While there, the kids reminded me of one of their pressing concerns. We have a boy and girl parakeet, and the kids keep wondering if they will have babies.

My son begged for a nest to place in the bird cage, just in case. My daughter’s mind was filled with the wonder of baby keets.

The store clerk discouraged all of this. She and I had just finished a discussion about how to work with our birds to turn them into friendly, tame, sit-on-your-finger kind of birds. She pointed out that once parakeets have babies, they will not be tame pets. They will be extremely protective of their brood and you can forget about a sweet housebroken budgie.

I was fuzzy on some issues. What if they mate without all the nice trappings of a brooding box and comfy nest, and the girl lays her eggs on the bottom of the cage? Just throw them out, said the clerk. Take the eggs away, she’ll forget all about them, and she won’t lay any more eggs after a while. Do not encourage breeding, she said, by not putting a nesting area in the cage. Then you’ll get to keep the birds as pets to pamper and cuddle and train.

I couldn’t help thinking about how to dispose of those eggs without the children having a meltdown. Would I flush them down the toilet? Would I toss them out the window? Offer them to someone with a pet snake? Ah, well, they are just parakeet eggs, and the snakes need to eat.

Okay, so the only way for the parakeets to care enough about human companionship instead of protecting their clutch is to prevent them from breeding, and take away their eggs when they do happen to lay them.

For some reason, my mind made a leap this morning, a shocking leap to connect with a great moral issue that I think of often. Abortion. Here is the connection I made.

I wondered if the taking away of a human mother’s baby-in-utero, abortion, has the same effect (the “taming” of humans), and if there is perhaps an underlying societal motivation (from the left) for wanting women and couples to not “breed.” A motivation similar to the parakeet issue: are women and families more easily manipulated and pliable when they don’t have the “mother bear” syndrome, the innate and fierce drive a mother has to look out for the best interest of her baby?

A new mother, of course, will be less interested in say, political issues of whether murderous criminals should be spared the death penalty or whether women should have the “right to choose,” than she will be in the immediate care of her newborn, how to feed and nurture him, and don’t you dare harm my baby.

Does it seems plausible that childless people will be more loyal to the state than to the family? I’m making a leap here, but there is some shifting of interests that occurs when your eggs are stolen away and you’re encouraged to forget about them, be you parakeet or person.

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Posted in family life, politics/world news, religion | 11 Comments

Aunt Beth~in spring

My Aunt Beth died yesterday. There is something about death that leaves one so introspective. I wanted to immediately fly back to Michigan and be with family, but Aunt Beth had requested a spring memorial. She apparently didn’t want people flying in from all over the country in the midst of a frigid Michigan winter. Early March in Michigan is not always nice.

Everyone told me, no, don’t come now, wait ’til spring, it’s what she wanted. I had to set aside this immediacy I felt and go with reason. She wanted us to gather in the cemetery in late spring, with green grass and lovely blooms. As I thought about Aunt Beth, it made such sense. She was the essence of spring. I don’t know why exactly I feel that way, but maybe it was her smile, her warmth, her innocence, her youthful spirit.

Aunt Beth was my mom’s oldest sister, and at age 84, it seems a natural time to die. She held onto life until the 23rd Psalm was read to her, then she passed into glory. My cousin who gave me the details of the moment said to make sure my mom knew that Beth was not in pain and was surrounded by loved ones. And she said, “Jenny, be danged sure that when that time comes for your mom, you have her favorite scripture on hand!”

Tonight I made my mom her favorite meal – bean burritos – and stopped at the library for some good books for her. I had been so worried about how she would handle this. She’s surprised me. Very calm, taking everything in stride. I asked her last night to tell me about a fond memory she had of her sister Beth.

She spoke of the joy of riding her bike, with her brother Doug, over to Beth’s house. Aunt Beth was five years older than my mom, and married young, maybe 18 or 19 years old. My mom would have been 13 or 14 at the time, and I thought how sweet of her big sister, with a new home and new husband, to be welcoming to her young siblings, so much so that her little sister still remembers that bit of hospitality about 67 years later.

At the library tonight, I picked out a book for myself as well. I chose A Year in Provence, a chronicle of an English couple that escape the rat race of life and head to the south of France. I guess it’s no surprise that I was drawn to this story just now. I was reading this last year, and only got as far as August (each chapter is a month of the year), and have been wanting to finish it. As I said, death leaves one introspective, and I’m thinking about life and love and meaning. I suppose Provence symbolizes those things for me. Plus I remembered that this book made me laugh until I cried more than once.

Until spring and until Provence…

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Posted in family life, religion | 9 Comments

Richard Wurmbrand Movie

I saw this over at Challies, and love this kind of feature. It’s the story of Richard Wurmbrand, and is the latest in the Torchlighters Heroes of the Faith series (perfect for ages 8-12).

Torchlighters are action-packed, award-winning animated videos, featuring real-life faith heroes that kids can depend on. Each DVD features a full-length documentary; complete, reproducible study materials; English and Spanish tracks, and more.

Richard Wurmbrand spent 14 years in Communist imprisonment in his homeland of Romania, suffering horrific torture for his Christian faith. Wurmbrand later became the founder of the The Voice of the Martyrs. He tells his shocking story in his book Tortured for Christ. This DVD from Torchlighters also includes a one-hour documentary that Challies liked even better than the animated feature.

His wife Sabina also has an amazing story, told in her autobiography, The Pastor’s Wife.

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Posted in education, persecuted church, religion | 5 Comments

John Sanford: retired Cornell professor shows up Darwinism

Dr. John Sanford, retired professor from Cornell University, has done brilliant work in the field of genetics. His research and studies have led him to refute “The Primary Axiom” upon which modern Darwinism is built. The Primary Axiom is that man is just the result of random mutations and natural selection.

DNABasically, by demonstrating that the human genome is deteriorating, and always has been since its origin, the theory of human life arising from random, beneficial, and increasingly complex mutations simply can’t be true. If we take an honest look at the human genome research, we will discover profound implications about our views of life, and we must conclude that The Primary Axiom is false.
A most enlightening and readable book on this subject is Dr. Sanford’s book Genetic Entropy & The Mystery of the Genome. If you have some basic knowledge of biology and genetics, you can glean everything you need from this book to formulate a solid reasoning for Creation or Intelligent Design.

Dr. Sanford begins his book with this Prologue:

In retrospect, I realize I have wasted much of my life arguing about things that don’t really matter. It is my sincere hope that this book can actually address something that really does matter. The issues of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going seem to me to be of enormous importance. This is the real subject of this book.

Modern thinking centers around the premise that man is just the product of a pointless natural process (undirected evolution). This widely-taught doctrine, when taken to its logical conclusion, leads us to believe that we are just meaningless bags of molecules, and in the final analysis, nothing matters. If false, this doctrine has been the most insidious and destructive thought system ever devised by man. Yet, if true, it is at best meaningless, like everything else. The whole thought system which prevails within today’s intelligentsia is built upon the ideological foundation of undirected and pointless Darwinian evolution.

This reminds me of the battle of wits about the poison in The Princess Bride. If Darwinian evolution is true, life is meaningless and therefore the doctrine itself is meaningless. If it’s false, it’s more than meaningless, it’s been a catastrophic blow to the sanctity of human life.

Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.

Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man in Black: You’ve made your decision then?

Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.

Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Vizzini: Wait til I get going! Now, where was I?

Man in Black: Australia.

Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man in Black: You’re just stalling now.

Vizzini: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Sanford ends the Prologue with a grave remark about the consequences of our thinking.

If the Primary Axiom is wrong, then there is a surprising and very practical consequence. When subjected only to natural forces, the human genome must irrevocably degenerate over time. Such a sober realization should have more than just intellectual or historical significance. It should rightfully cause us to personally reconsider where we should rationally be placing our hope for the future.

Exactly how Dr. Sanford unravels the mystery of the human genome, the “book of life,” I will leave for the author to reveal to you. As I said, the book is readable for a lay person, but the complexity of biological and genetic information that is built up chapter upon chapter is too much for this space.

Sanford covers topics such as how mutations consistently destroy information, how selection capabilities are very limited, and how mutation/selection cannot realistically create a single gene. There is a helpful glossary of terms in the back of the book. And most importantly, Dr. Sanford ends with a personal postlude giving an answer to replace a false axiom – Jesus Christ, our only hope.

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Posted in book reviews, features, religion, science | 11 Comments

Poet’s Cat

Tawny napping

A Poet’s Cat, sedate and grave
As poet well could wish to have,
Was much addicted to inquire
For nooks to which she might retire,
And where, secure as mouse in chink,
She might repose, or sit and think.
– – – William Cowper

Our cat, Tawny is fond of napping, as most cats are. He’s dozing in what I like to call the townhouse – his place on top, the dog in the bottom apartment. My husband and son built this cozy accommodation just before winter, and it was uncanny how each animal instinctively knew where his place was.

our animal townhouseI tried to shoo Riley into his house so I could have the perfect picture, but he would have none of it. It’s usually the cat who won’t cooperate with the camera, but today Tawny was quite obliging.

By the way, that is bits of a foam pad in the back of the dog house, not “doo doo” as my 5 year old said when she saw this picture. Riley tears out anything of comfort we try to place on the floor, whether it’s a blanket, a heated pad, or foam.

Where do your animals like to sleep or sit?

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Posted in family life, the ranch | 8 Comments

When Kids Explore: The Black Feather

Little L with his featherLittle L was so delighted to find a feather during our last hike about the property. Never mind we find them all the time, each new discovery still holds a bit of magic.

Here’s a little poem I wrote for him:

The Black Feather
Today I went out to explore
I found a feather on the forest floor
I had the urge to search for more
Creation has unlocked a door. 

Enjoy your day exploring and investigating your world! We’re off for another hike…

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Benjamin Carson: star neurosurgeon sees God in science

Ben CarsonThe story and person of Benjamin Carson makes me so happy because he is just one more amazingly brilliant and talented individual in the field of science and medicine to blow a hole in the tired argument that Christians who believe in God the Creator and not evolution are just uneducated, fundamentalist religious whack-jobs who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Dr. Benjamin Carson is one of the world’s best neurosurgeons. He made history in 1987 when he accomplished what every neurosurgeon before him had failed to do: he successfully separated Siamese twins who were joined at the back of the head. Many other “firsts” followed this, and Dr. Carson continues to blaze a trail in the field of pediatric neurosurgery. He is currently a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and he has been chief of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for nearly a quarter of a century.
His outstanding achievements speak for themselves:

In 2001, Dr. Carson was named by CNN and TIME Magazine as one of the nation’s 20 foremost physicians and scientists. That same year, he was selected by the Library of Congress as one of 89 “Living Legends” on the occasion of its 200th anniversary. He is also the recipient of the 2006 Spingarn Medal which is the highest honor bestowed by the NAACP. In February, 2008, Dr. Carson was presented with the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal by President Bush at the White House. In June, 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the President, which is the highest civilian honor in the land. He has literally received hundreds of other awards during his distinguished career.

Dr. Carson has been a leader in scientific research his entire career. He has over 120 major scientific publications in peer reviewed journals, almost 40 books and book chapters, and grant awards of about one million dollars. With his clear intelligence in the fields of medicine and science, I think his opinion on the origin of life deserves to be heard.

Does evolutionary theory have any direct bearing on his daily work as a neurosurgeon? Only philosophically, I would say, but can you tell me one field of science where evolutionary theory actually makes a tangible, measurable difference in how that scientist works and contributes to society? It merely plays out in a theoretical or metaphysical or political way.

A lot of people believe in evolution because most scientists do (or at least it’s the common perception that most scientists do). I don’t know the statistics, but I suspect the number of scientists who do not believe in evolution is large and growing. I am not speaking of microevolution, but the general theory of Darwin that all life originated and evolved by gradual and chance advantageous mutations – which is entirely void of factual support.

Back to Benjamin Carson–I’m more than pleased to know that this distinguished man speaks openly and honestly about his faith in God and belief in a Creator and Designer. He looks to the facts and wonders at Darwin’s own assertion that within fifty to 100 years of his lifetime fossil remains would be found of the entire evolutionary tree, displaying an indisputable step-by-step evolution of life from amoeba to human. As Carson points out, this does not exist:

It’s just not there. But when you bring that up to the proponents of Darwinism, the best explanation they can come up with is “Well…uh…it’s lost!”…I find it requires too much faith for me to believe that explanation given all the fossils we have found without any fossilized evidence of the direct, step-by-step evolutionary progression from simple to complex organisms or from one species to another species. Shrugging and saying, “Well, it was mysteriously lost, and we’ll probably never find it,” doesn’t seem like a particularly satisfying, objective, or scientific response.

Dr. Carson is certainly a risk-taker in more ways than one. In fact, his latest best-selling book is called Take the Risk. In his surgical field, he continually pushes forward with innovation and new techniques. For example, with hemispherectomies (removal of half of the brain to prevent untreatable severe seizures), he significantly increased the safety of the procedure by coming up with better ways of controlling bleeding and infection, as well as developing a system of incrementally removing specific brain parts.

In his willingness to explain his creation views, he is also a risk taker. He addressed the National Science Teachers convention in Philadelphia and the very prestigious Academy of Achievement, which includes many Nobel scientists. Dr. Carson’s basic message was that “evolution and creationism both require faith. It’s just a matter of where you choose to place that faith.”

If you’d like to find out more about Benjamin Carson, there are some fantastic resources available. Just this past Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009, TNT aired Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Superbly played by Cuba Gooding, you will be inspired to learn of Carson’s upbringing in extreme poverty in Detroit, raised by a single mother with a third grade education. Ben Carson’s story is also told in his autobiography, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Visit the Carson Scholars Fund for information on Benjamin Carson’s education initiatives and scholarships.

Resources:
Carson Scholars Fund
Benjamin Carson: The Pediatric Neurosurgeon with Gifted Hands
Ben Carson: The Faith of a Surgeon

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Posted in education, features, religion, science | 22 Comments

Today at the salon…

A salon is a gathering of stimulating people of quality under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation and readings, often consciously following Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “to please and educate” (“aut delectare aut prodesse est“).

From Wikipedia. Most notable in the 17th and 18th centuries in France, the salon was an important place for the exchange of ideas.

This painting is called In the Salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755, by Anicet-Charles-Gabriel Lemmonier:

LEMONNIER Anicet Charles Gabriel: In The Salon Of Madame Geoffrin In 1755

Blogs are a bit of a modern salon, I think. So, I wonder, if you were to attend the salon, what would you care to discuss? What books or ideas would you want to explore?

Posted in history, politics/world news | 6 Comments

A favorite place

Big L perched on a rock

Big L found a favorite perch. From here, he had a bird’s eye view of the valley and the horizon beyond. Upon his rocky seat, with his hand steadied by the old weathered fence post, my son felt like king of the hill.

I wondered what tales the worn, lichen and moss covered fence could tell. Who owned the cattle it once held in? What hands pounded the stakes? Why did these people move on? Where did they go from here?

Do you have a favorite place to retreat to when you need to clear your mind or when you long for solitude?

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Zakaria Botros, unafraid to defy Islam

Zakaria BotrosHe has been named Islam’s “Public Enemy #1” by al-Insan al-Jadid, an Arabic newspaper, and by merely looking at this elderly Coptic priest, one would fail to see why.

However, mass conversions to Christianity as a result of his ministry are the reason for the label. About six million Muslims convert to Christianity annually, and an Islamic cleric admitted on al-Jazeera TV not too long ago that many of these conversions are attributed to Botros’ public ministry.

What is his secret, and how has he survived? I believe his greatest asset is his command of classic Arabic and his TV show broadcast in Arabic into the heart of Muslim territory. Born in Egypt, Botros has been hosting Truth Talk since 2003, a weekly 90 minute show where he expertly exposes the inherent contradictions of Islam.

Because Zakaria Botros knows Arabic and has read all of the teachings of Muhammed, the Quran, and countless other Muslim books, he is in an unusually strategic position to counter the inconsistencies of Islam with Islam itself, not just the Bible or Christian teaching. Botros is ultimately interested in saving souls, but is aware that a traditional evangelical approach will not work. He explained this recently:

I am not against Muslims although I am against Islam as a false religion. I don’t want to disgrace Muslims but to expose Islam. My ultimate intention is to glorify God and to save people, especially Muslims. Muslims are victims. Muhammad deceived them as he himself was deceived by Satan. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the best prophet, that the Quran is the only proper book from God, and Islam is the only religion from God. Muslims are in bad need to be saved from these false beliefs.

One example of how Botros will expose Islam with his polemic, debating style, was his lengthy exposure of a certain embarrassing aspect of Islamic law, which Islamic authorities are unable to rebut:

Botros spent three years bringing to broad public attention a scandalous — and authentic — hadith stating that women should “breastfeed” strange men with whom they must spend any amount of time. A leading hadith scholar, Abd al-Muhdi, was confronted with this issue on the live talk show of popular Arabic host Hala Sirhan. Opting to be truthful, al-Muhdi confirmed that going through the motions of breastfeeding adult males is, according to sharia, a legitimate way of making married women “forbidden” to the men with whom they are forced into contact — the logic being that, by being “breastfed,” the men become like “sons” to the women and therefore can no longer have sexual designs on them.

To make matters worse, Ezzat Atiyya, head of the Hadith department at al-Azhar University — Sunni Islam’s most authoritative institution — went so far as to issue a fatwa legitimatizing “Rida’ al-Kibir” (sharia’s term for “breastfeeding the adult”), which prompted such outrage in the Islamic world that it was subsequently recanted.

Another telling illustration of how Zakaria Botros forces Muslims to examine the roots of their faith is this:

One recent episode of Truth Talk, aired Nov. 21, cut to 20 separate clips, most of Cairo’s respected Al-Azhar University Sheikh Khaled El-Gendy, to debate the age of Aisha when she became Muhammad’s second wife. Islamic hadiths (the sayings and actions of Muhammad) say she was 6 years old when married and 9 when the marriage was consummated (and reportedly returned to play with her toys afterward). Yet many scholars—and a controversial new novel about Aisha, The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones that was dropped from Random House’s list because of Muslim threats—have tried to paper over the obvious morality issue of child marriage with assertions that Aisha was 14 or even 18. What’s at stake, it becomes clear as the episode unfolds, is whether the Quran and the hadiths can be both true and exemplary.

Whether Zakaria Botros is confronting universal jihad or the inferiority of women, he is always careful to painstakingly cover all the sources, quoting the original Islamic texts and inviting a response from the ulema, the expert Muslim theologians who articulate sharia law. Al-dalil we al-burhan, evidence and proof, is what he demands.

You may wonder how Zakaria Botros is still alive. You must know that any one of his statements would bring death if he were to be roaming the streets preaching in any Islamic town. He’s been jailed twice for preaching the gospel to Muslims, and was sentenced to life in prison. Miraculously, the judge instead released him on the condition that he be forced into exile – Botros had to leave Egypt for good.

After having ministered in Cairo for over 30 years, Botros moved to England. Since then, he “retired” into his airwave ministry. It seems the threats are just beginning. Botros is sure he’d be dead were it not for broadcasting from an undisclosed location. Jihadist groups have posted death threats worth up to a reported $60 million for his head. Zakaria Botros knows the seriousness of this. Growing up as a child in Alexandria, Egypt, Muslim attackers killed his young teenage brother. His response:

Instead of anger against Muslims, the Lord saved me from that. I had pity on them.

Botros does more than defy Islam. He offers an alternative, the truth of Christianity, and he consistently opens and closes his show with an invitation to his viewers to come to Christ. With the growing worldwide hostility to anyone who speaks out against Islam (for example, the Dutch lawmaker currently facing prosecution for anti-Islamic statements), Botros is truly fearless.

“Fear? I fear nothing,” says Botros. “My dictionary does not contain the word fear. I believe in God and I believe that the epistle of Ephesians says we are created in Jesus Christ for a plan, which was engaged from the early beginning. No one can cut it, and when it is completed no one can continue it.”

photo: World Magazine
sources: World Magazine, National Review Online,

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Overlooking the Valley

Overlooking the valley last week
Out hiking a few weeks ago. Near the east edge of our property is a stunning view of the valley below.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

What element of God’s creation speaks to you today?

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Berthe Fraser, from Housewife to French Resistance Hero

In Nazi occupied France during the dark days of WWII, there was a group of valiant and daring individuals known as the French Resistance. They dared to defy the vice-grip of Nazi Germany (as well as the French collaborators) using stealth, reconnaissance, infiltration, and whatever means necessary to save their beloved country and fellow man from destruction. Most of these brave souls were subject to betrayal, unspeakable torture, or death. One of these members of the French Resistance appeared to be an ordinary housewife, but Berthe Fraser was anything but ordinary.

Berthe Fraser was among hundreds of people who rose to the treacherous task of defending France. Be they a housewife, a mother, a Catholic, a Jew, a communist, an artist, or a politician, these resistance fighters came from all layers of society, both male and female, young and old, and without their heroic acts, Hitler’s march through France may not have been halted.

The French Resistance took many forms, from groups of armed guerilla bands who escaped to the mountains, known as the Maquis, to organizers of escape networks for Jews and other targets of the Nazis, to publishers of underground newspapers, to those who carried out sabotage operations, to couriers who carried coded messages back and forth between Allied members.

Mrs. Fraser’s story begins with her birth in 1894 as Berthe Emilie Vicogne. She married an Englishman and thus became a British subject. When the rumblings of WWII hit France, Berthe Fraser was going about her domestic life in her hometown of Arras, France, all the while organizing an underground network that saved the lives of countless English agents and pilots. Her husband reported later to an English newspaper:

My wife was the head of a great movement, which worried the Germans stupid. She was the hub of this big wheel. Her first work was in 1940 when there were hundreds of British soldiers roaming around France. My wife started a movement which grew until it was a sort of underground channel. She sent dozens of British soldiers by devious means to the coast where they were smuggled to England.

Twice betrayed but never broken, Berthe Fraser was an unshakable woman for whom I have the utmost awe and respect. I can relate to where she was in life; a woman in her 40s, tending to her home. I don’t know if she had any children, but as a woman, I feel the risks of undertaking the work of the Resistance were doubly perilous.

I wish there was more information available about this woman. I know she suffered extreme torture during her second capture, and this trauma surely accounts for the lack of details. Who wants to recall the horror? I can find no record of a public interview. I discovered in the back matter of the book SOE in France by M.R.D. Foot, that Berthe Fraser died in 1956, her health never restored.

In 1941, someone betrayed Berthe, and she was arrested by the Gestapo. She spent 15 months in a Belgian prison, and was released in December 1942. Did this imprisonment deter her? No. Berthe immediately jumped back into the work of fighting Hitler’s campaign of death and terror.

No sooner had she got out than Berthe immediately contacted the officers sent into France from England, and embarked on a new phase of anti–Nazi activity, helping the Allies by supplying English agents with a complete support network of Resistance fighters. She looked after the foreigners, providing them with shelter, transport, and safe hiding places where they could engage in their clandestine missions. She arranged liaisons, transmitted vital messages, and took on the very dangerous role of courier, travelling far and wide by car, sometimes on foot, laden with documents, arms, and occasionally the dynamite required for sabotage operations.

Somehow she managed to evade discovery, collecting the supplies of weapons that were dropped by night at secret locations by British planes, hiding the vital goods in safe houses where they could only be released on presenting her signature.

Berthe had to go to great lengths to protect her English charges. Once, entrusted with the care of the well–known English agent Wing Commander Yeo–Thomas, known as “The White Rabbit,” she arranged a funeral cortege to transport the senior officer, hidden inside the hearse. He says she was “one of the great Resistance heroines…. She worked impartially for any French or British organisation that needed her.”

From the Charlotte Gray website, an excellent Warner Bros. movie about a Scottish woman living in England, parachuted into France by the British Government (SOE) to support the French Resistance.

Berthe was betrayed again in 1944, unbelievably by one of the very English agents whose life she saved. She spent six months in solitary confinement at Loos where she was tortured every day. She was stripped and flogged in front of Nazi troops and condemned to death. Never did she betray her friends in the Resistance or the English army. How many lives she saved through her own afflictions will never be known.

When the Allies stormed the prison on September 1, 1944, Berthe Fraser was just hanging onto life, and she is reported to have said, “Thank you boys, you are just in time.”

Berthe FraserAward from Eisenhower
The story of Berthe Fraser stands as just one of the many heroines of WWII. If you’re interested in further accounts of the women of the French Resistance, I highly recommend the following resources:

Sisters in Resistance, a documentary film by Independent Lens.

SISTERS IN RESISTANCE tells the story of four young women who risked their lives to fight Nazi oppression and brutality in occupied France, not because they themselves were Jewish or in danger of being arrested, but because it was the right thing to do. Within two years of the start of the Occupation, they had all been arrested by the Gestapo and were deported as political prisoners to Ravensbruck concentration camp.

The documentary follows the paths of the four women — Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz, Jacqueline Pery d’Alincourt, Anise Postel-Vinay and Germaine Tillion — from before the war to the present. The women speak about what compelled them to resist, their roles in the Resistance, their arrests, deportation and liberation. They talk about the struggle to rebuild their lives after the war, their desire for children and their continued battles in the name of justice.

Charlotte Gray, a Warner Bros. film.

Set in Nazi–occupied France at the height of World War II, Charlotte Gray tells the compelling story of a young Scottish woman working with the French Resistance in the hope of rescuing her lover, a missing RAF pilot.

Based on the best–selling novel by Sebastian Faulks, the film stars Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon and Rupert Penry-Jones. Charlotte Gray is directed by Gillian Armstrong and produced by Sarah Curtis and Douglas Rae.

For Freedom, a novel by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. An excellent young adult book for grades 6-12.

Life for Suzanne David, a 13-year-old French schoolgirl and music apprentice, dramatically changes in May, 1940, when she and her best friend witness the brutal death of a neighbor when a bomb drops directly in front of them. Soon the Germans take over Cherbourg, and the Davids are forced from their home into poverty. Then Suzanne is given the opportunity to help the Allies. Bravely, she risks her life, family, and singing career in order to spy for the Resistance. The pace of this suspenseful novel, told in first person and based on a true story, moves swiftly into action within the first chapter, showing the young heroine as strong, courageous, and clever. Filled, but not laden, with the events of the war, and peppered with French language and the culture of music, this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy history and espionage.

Outwitting the Gestapo, a memoir by Lucie Aubrac.

A suspenseful rendering of Aubrac’s experiences as a French Resistance fighter during WWII. This memoir owes its existence to the 1983 extradition to France of Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon.” In order to refute Barbie’s defenders and former collaborators, Aubrac told her story publicly for the first time- -and it became a bestseller in France. Focusing on a nine-month period that begins with the conception of her second child, Aubrac looks back 40 years at experiences of enduring intensity. During the war, the author, her Jewish husband Raymond, and other “resistants” published and distributed underground newspapers, found new identities and homes for fugitives, forged permits, stole guns, and blew up roads and bridges–all routine Resistance activities.

What makes this account special, however, is Aubrac’s irrepressible energy and resourcefulness, and the graceful way in which she interweaves her separate but parallel lives. As a mother and wife struggling in a wartime economy, she bartered for hard-to-find items; as a devoted schoolteacher, she applied the lessons of history to current events; as a secret member of the Resistance, she couldn’t disclose her true identity even to her most trusted colleagues, switching names and identities like a quick-change artist. Three times, she helped free her husband from prison. The last incarceration was the most harrowing: Walking into a trap, Raymond was arrested, tortured, and sentenced to die by Barbie himself. Despite her anguish, Aubrac tricked her husband’s captors into meetings and masterminded an intricate rescue. The Aubracs’ escape by airlift to London, where their baby was born, is tremendously exciting. A breathtaking account that feeds the soul as much as it satisfies the appetite for vicarious danger.

Sisters in the Resistance by Margaret Collins Weitz.

Weitz makes an important and unique contribution to the literature of the French Resistance and the history of World War II. Although countless studies have documented the heroic exploits of Resistance leaders during the course of World War II, few have focused on the pivotal role women played in the various underground organizations. Based on interviews with surviving resistants, this oral history contains the harrowing and often previously unrecorded testimony of a remarkable set of women. The author’s sensitive narrative places these riveting anecdotes and reminiscences into proper historical and sociological context as she examines and analyzes the ever expanding duties and assignments undertaken by women as France’s war-within-a-war continued to rage. An absolutely stunning and compelling chronicle of dauntless courage and unflagging patriotism.

Code Name Christiane Clouet: A Woman in the French Resistance by Claire Chevrillon.

A witness to the bleak fate of French Jewry in Nazi-dominated France, this remarkable author recounts her experiences from 1939 to 1945 in a personal though emotionally reserved way that makes her family’s tragedies particularly poignant. Her parents were upper-class, assimilated Jews; her father, Andre Chevrillon, was a member of the French Academy, a man Edith Wharton called “the first literary critic in France.” An English teacher in Paris when war broke out, Claire gives abundant details about the first days of the occupation, when France became a nation divided between the Petainists and those less willing to accommodate Hitler’s designs. In 1942, as repressive laws limited Jewish freedom (Claire’s mother was effectively imprisoned by her fear of leaving home wearing the yellow star), as her brother-in-law languished in a POW camp and her cousins were persecuted and eventually deported, Chevrillon joined the resistance, first in air operations and then in the code service, where she encoded and decoded messages between the free French government in London and de Gaulle’s Paris delegation. Chevrillon, who had contact with some of the most prominent members of the resistance, was betrayed in 1943 and spent four harrowing months in prison. The author’s goal was “to set forward the facts… not to analyze myself or my characters.” But her story, told without elaboration, is as dramatic and compelling as any fiction.

An American Heroine in the French Resistance: The Diary and Memoir of Virginia D’Albert-Lake by Virginia D’Albert-Lake.

In 1937, Virginia Roush, a strong-minded young woman from St. Petersburg, Florida, married a Frenchman, becoming Virginia d’Albert-Lake, and moved to Paris. During the war, she kept a diary, including almost larkish reports of her Resistance work. Part of an escape line that smuggled downed Allied airmen out of the country, she took them on secret sightseeing tours of Paris. In June, 1944, she was arrested by the Germans and sent to a sequence of concentration camps that included three spells in Ravensbrück. (The third time she was transferred from Ravensbrück, she weighed seventy-six pounds.) This book, comprising a diary written before her capture and a memoir written after her liberation, is an indelible portrait of extraordinary strength of character. In the diary she seems naïve and spirited; in the memoir she is sombre, reflective, and attentive to every detail.

Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany by Marthe Cohn.

This compelling memoir is testament to how extraordinary circumstances can transform a life-and how an extraordinary person reacts to difficult circumstances. Cohn was a typical French-Jewish teenager when WWII broke out, but as it did for millions of others, the war transformed her life in unimaginable ways. “There was no time to be frightened,” she and Holden, a veteran journalist, write. The first part of the book chronicles her family and friends’ response to the war. That countless other books have described the effects of the Nazi onslaught – the life-and-death consequences of the unthinkable decisions many were forced to make – makes her descriptions no less powerful and tragic. The narrative turns into a quasi thriller in its second half, depicting how the death of Cohn’s fiance led her, now a nurse, to join the Free French forces in the fight to defeat the Nazis. A blonde, fluent German speaker who never mentioned to her superiors that she was a Jew, she went on several life-threatening missions into German territory, earning France’s highest military honors. But she describes her actions without self-aggrandizement. What comes through is the importance of courageous individual action in the most dire situations. This is the amazing story of a woman who lived through one of the worst times in human history, losing family members to the Nazis but surviving with her spirit and integrity intact. Cohn now lives in California.

Carve Her Name With Pride by RJ Minney. Also on film.

Carve Her Name With Pride is the inspiring story of the half-French Violette Szabo who was born in Paris in 1921 to an English motor-car dealer, and a French mother. She met and married Etienne Szabo, a Captain in the French Foreign Legion in 1940. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, Tania, her husband died at El Alamein. She became a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) and was recruited into the SOE and underwent secret agent training. Her first trip to France was completed successfully even though she was arrested and then released by the French Police.

On June 7th, 1944, Szabo was parachuted into Limoges. Her task was to coordinate the work of the French Resistance in the area in the first days after D-Day. She was captured by the SS ‘Das Reich’ Panzer Division and handed over to the Gestapo in Paris for interrogation. From Paris, Violette Szabo was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was executed in January 1945. She was only 23 and for her courage was posthumously awarded The George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm.

Vera Atkins, a legendary figure of British wartime intelligence, died in 2000 at the age of 92, but her secrets did not die with her, thanks to the brilliant investigative reporting of Sarah Helm, a noted British journalist and editor. Her book, A Life in Secrets, combines the history of a pivotal era with the nail-biting drama of the heroic operatives who were dropped into Nazi-occupied territories to contact and help form a resistance army.

Atkins worked for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which was formed in the dark days of 1940 after the British retreat at Dunkirk. Its mission was to wage a secret war until regular forces could be amassed to retake the continent. Her responsibilities were to recruit and train agents for SOE’s French section. Some 400 men and women were dispatched, and of these about 100 ended up “missing presumed dead.” Of special concern to Atkins were 12 female agents whom she could not account for after the war. Much of the book details her dogged pursuit of clues to their fates, leading to revelations of their incredible bravery when they were captured, sent to concentration camps and put to death.

Flames in the Field: The Story of Four SOE Agents in Occupied France by Rita Kramer.

The true story of women agents of the secret World War II Special Operations Executive, mandated by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze” by organizing resistance in occupied Europe during the prelude to D Day. Intrigue and heroism, adventure and betrayal figure in this account of British-led efforts to defeat the Nazis in wartime France, based on extensive research in records, documents, letters and memoirs, and the author’s interviews with surviving agents and officials. Despite sporadic defeat and betrayal, SOE leaders managed to delay the arrival of German reinforcements to the Normandy beachhead, contributing to the eventual Allied victory. Details of the operations of SOE recounted here remained secret for decades after the war, finally revealing the human cost of the reconnaissance and sabotage efforts that helped to shorten the conflict.

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: literary giant, light of truth

Solzhenitsyn

Just over five months ago, the Russian novelist and historian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008), died in his homeland. What a loss to the world, this giant of the twentieth century who wrote from a Christian worldview to change the world.

Through the writings of Solzhenitsyn, the West became acquainted with the Gulag, the forced labor camps of the Soviet Union, in which he served an eight-year term for criticizing Joseph Stalin in a private letter to a friend. Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in the labor camps formed the basis of his groundbreaking novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. His masterpiece, The Gulag Archipelago, came about a decade later, a scorching detail of four decades of Soviet terror and oppression. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

At the end of Solzhenitsyn’s term in the labor camps, he was sent to internal exile in Kazakhstan, a common fate of political prisoners. During his imprisonment and exile, Solzhenitsyn turned deeply philosophical and spiritual and threw off the Marxism of his former days as a Red Army captain. His story sort of parallels that of Dostoevsky, who also spent time in exile in Siberia and had a quest for faith a hundred years before Solzhenitsyn.

Solzhenitsyn was finally freed from exile in 1956 under the Khrushchev regime, and spent his time teaching and writing. However, after the ousting of Khrushchev in 1964, things took a turn for the worse once again. The KGB began seizing his manuscripts, and by 1974, Solzhenitsyn lived in exile once again. Once the KGB found the manuscripts for the first part of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn was arrested, deported, and stripped of his Soviet citizenship.

He found refuge in Germany, then Switzerland, and finally, the United States, where he ended up spending almost two decades.
In June of 1978, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was invited to speak at Harvard University, and began by addressing the graduates with a reminder that Harvard’s motto is “Veritas.”

Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my speech today, too. But I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary but from a friend.

The entire text of this speech is brilliant and prophetic for 2009, and I do hope you take the time to read it. This portion of that Harvard address, in which Solzhenitsyn speaks of courage, or the lack thereof, is especially insightful:

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?

One who has seen the depths of evil and is a person of any courage must tell the truth of the matter, as Solzhenitsyn has done time after time. From various writings and interviews I’ve come across, Solzhenitsyn is best characterized by Truth–he is compelled to reveal it. Being the remarkable, profound writer that he was, his words cannot be paraphrased by anything I could attempt to cobble together, so here are some more choice morsels from his pen:

Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive. Source

Everything you add to the truth subtracts from the truth.

Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity? Source.

Issues in Solzhenitsyn’s writings revolve around matters of conscience. He writes of God, justice, how people should live rightly in a corrupt nation, how the state has taken the place of the church, and always, truth.

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I support Israel.

Just wanted to say that. Because I am SICK of the thousands of protesters from D.C. to Denmark who scream Free Palestine, and whine and curse about the cruelty and “holocaust” that Israel is perpetrating against Gaza. How DARE they even use the term holocaust, that is completely revolting to me. Israel must defend herself.

Where were all the shrieking protesters for the past two or three years as Hamas has been fiercely pursuing the total annihilation of Israel, raining rockets into Israel, intentionally killing civilians, while Israel has always bent over backwards to avoid civilian casualties? Oh, I forgot, they were busy actively promoting the destruction of American civilization on every front, the very civilization that’s given them the freedom to be such double-standard double-speakers. And in Europe, where the bulk of the protests have been taking place, they were too busy enacting Sharia law.

How can civilized people who truly care about human life be supporting these terrorists who purposely use human shields, carry out military operations from schools and hospitals, and proudly train up their children to be suicide bombers? Because if you’re not supporting Israel in this issue, you are certainly supporting Hamas terrorists and radical Islamic anti-semitic jihadists who fund them. There is no other choice no matter how one tries to frame it in the current wishy-washy-it’s-cool-and-intellectual-to-be-anti-American-pro-Palestinian cultural trend.

I support Israel.

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A funny thing happened on the way to the office…

I guess it was my turn to have a harried day. I was running late, and felt a tightening in my stomach and race in my heart when JoJo, who was supposed to be buckled in the van, appeared in the doorway to declare that “I hate to tell you, but there is a little problem.” 7:05 a.m. read the clock, taunting me that I should be halfway to my destination by now.

I advised the little one to get Daddy, as I was still scrambling to pack one more lunch and grab my coffee. And scoop the pan of hot oatmeal into bowls for the kids to eat in the van, clearly a decision of a raving mad mother. Imagine four children eating full bowls of hot oatmeal on a bumpy road with lots of curves.

Ah, the problem the little one spoke of. I found my husband outside in the morning frost, attempting his manly best in his bedroom slippers to reattach the van sliding door which had come unhinged. It appeared to be hanging by a thread, but with some skillful maneuvering, he worked some magic and jockeyed the door back into proper position. 7:10 a.m., I gulped back the anxiety of being late yet again, trying to give due thanks that I don’t have to drive ten miles with no door.

Back to the oatmeal. Three of the children are adept enough to handle their bowls, but LIttle L, at age four, just can’t manage. I placed his bowl as I did before on the dash (how humiliating to admit I’ve done this before) to eat once I drop him off with the babysitter. The three older ones gobbled down their breakfast, miraculously without so much as an oat overboard, and I made it within three blocks of Little L’s stopping place.

I rounded the corner and my eye was on my coffee, which I was also guarding in the cup-holder, as it was not a sturdy lidded mug (another unfortunate decision), but a lovely tall ceramic mug. So far so good. Some left over oomph from the turn caught up with the bowl, however, and I watched helplessly as it slid forward into the windshield, splashing milk and oats which dribbled down into the vents.

Drats, I say (really I said something worse) clenching my teeth, but I had to straighten wheel from my turn, and I must have inadvertently hit the gas, because now the bowl came flying back toward me. Before I could blink, the bowl hurtled over the dash like it was in the Indy 500 and crashed in about five pieces on the floor between the driver and passenger seats. Oats, milk, and Dansk Concerto Allegro Blue dinnerware were in a shocking muddle.

“Mommy!” cried Big L, who is extremely sentimental for a nine year old, “your wedding bowl!”

“Mommy!” cried Little L, who was extremely hungry, “my oatmeal!”

“My mug!” I cried, as I noticed that as the bowl went down it took out the handle of the charming ceramic mug. My dear friend had given me this mug just a few weeks earlier, and I loved the sweet saying on the side of it:

Cherish yesterday, live today, dream tomorrow.

Well, I got the mess sort of cleaned up as best I could, promised Little L that the babysitter would feed him, and assured Big L that I could always buy another bowl.

When I finally arrived at work (7:30 a.m. and missed my morning meeting), I saw my friend who had gifted me with the treasured mug. I told her the hapless tale of my morning, and she said, “Jennifer, this story should be written!” because she is a nostalgic, romantic type who sees the tenderness of it all and is wise enough to know that simple events like these, in all their comedy of errors, can become priceless family memories.

So, Julia, this is for you, and that handle-less mug sits on my kitchen windowsill tonight reminding me that I did, indeed, live today.

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Helen Suzman, voice of freedom for South Africa

Helen Suzman with Nelson MandelaHelen Suzman lived long enough to greet 2009, by one day. This extraordinary anti-apartheid activist from South Africa, whose name is as great as that of Nelson Mandela in the fight for true freedom for black South Africans, died on January 1, 2009.

Suzman served in the South African parliament from 1953 to 1989, and fought a long, brave battle against government oppression of the country’s black majority. She was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was one of the few white lawmakers to fight against the injustices of racially discriminatory regulations and ways of life.

For 13 of her years in parliament, Helen Suzman was the only lawmaker opposing the endless racist legislation introduced by the National Party government. She was called a “vicious little cat” by former South African President P.W. Botha and “An enemy of the state” by Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe – titles she wore a bit proudly in her maverick way.

Her story reminds me of another member of parliament in another country in another era. Just last week I watched the moving Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), an evangelical Christian who was a member of the English Parliament. For 18 years, Wilberforce regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in parliament, and was also a lonely voice who fought on despite enormous odds. Wilberforce eventually passed a motion to end the slave trade in Britain, and in due course, an end to slavery itself in the British empire.
A century later, another battle was to be fought, and a daughter was born to Lithuanian-Jewish parents who had fled to a mining town near Johannesburg, South Africa, from their home country’s anti-Semitism. This child, Helen, grew up, and despite her white, sheltered, and privileged upbringing, came to see the tribulations of the black population and the evils of South Africa’s racial laws.

I first learned of South Africa’s practice of apartheid (social and political policy of racial segregation enforced by law) during high school. I read Alan Paton’s deeply moving novel Cry the Beloved Country for an AP English class, the greatest piece of literature to emerge out of South Africa. As a teenager, this was the most profound book I had ever read, and even now, over 20 years later, I still have not read a more penetrating, insightful, or beautiful novel.

Paton tells the story of a Zulu pastor searching a corrupt city for his son Absalom, and their lives intersect with a white landowner and his own son in a most tragic way, highlighting the racial divide of South Africa. The movie version of Cry the Beloved Country is also outstanding, with a brilliant performance by James Earl Jones as Rev. Kumalo.

What Alan Paton did for raising popular awareness of the plight of black South Africans through poetic prose, Helen Suzman did through tireless work in parliament. Back in 1967, Suzman visited Nelson Mandela in prison on Robben Island, where he served 18 of his 27 years in prison for anti-apartheid activity. Nelson later recalled of Helen Suzman:

It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard. She was the first and only woman ever to grace our cells.

Mrs. Suzman was one of the few, if not the only, member of Parliament who took an interest in the plight of political prisoners.

Helen Suzman’s tireless crusading for the cause of the repressed black South Africans paid off, and apartheid began to be dismantled from 1990-1993, and Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Suzman was at Nelson Mandela’s side in 1996 when he signed South Africa’s new constitution. Mandela later awarded her with his country’s highest public honor in recognition of her years of campaigning on behalf of freedom for all South Africans.

Sunday, January 4, 2009 was the funeral for Helen Suzman in Johannesburg’s West Park cemetery’s Jewish section. Hundreds of mourners gathered to honor this courageous woman who fearlessly battled against apartheid.

I hope you have been encouraged by the story of Helen Suzman, and inspired to be a courageous truth-seeker in your own world.

Posted in features, politics/world news | 4 Comments

Under the weather beneath a blue sky.

I rang in the New Year with a dreadful sinus infection, the kind that aches and stabs from your temples down into your teeth. I hope it gets better from here.

New Year’s Day was slow and steady, doing nothing much of anything, which is an unnerving feeling when there is so much to be done. Today, I’ll have to call my doctor and get started on some antibiotics. The last sinus infection brought me to a feverish, near collapsing state because I held off on the medicine, but I think I learned my lesson. I’m open to advice on comforting this dull head.

May the New Year find sinus infections far from you, my friends.

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Call to Prayer for the DRC

Massacre in the DR CongoA map of the northeastern DR Congo, Uganda and Sudan, showing attacks attributed to the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels killed more than 400 people in Christmas massacres in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Caritas aid charity said Tuesday. (from Yahoo News).

The archbishop of Dungu-Doruma, Monsignor Richard Domba, told AFP that at least 150 people had been killed at a Christmas Day service at Faradje and later, 80 at Duru and at least 200 others at Doruma and in the surrounding villages.

“It is a dramatic situation that we are living through here,” he said. The rebels “are indescribably barbarous and savage.

“They kill with machetes, axes and clubs. They burn people alive with their property in their homes.”

The LRA also “captured young boys and girls whom they will conscript and force to work in their fields,” he said.

The history of the unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) is long and complex, involving notable European powers, especially Belgium. Below is a Timeline of the Democratic Republic of Congo from the BBC (note the Sept. 2005 entry, in which the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels of Uganda infiltrate the DR Congo via Sudan).

There has been a heavy involvement of the UN in the Congo conflicts, dating back to about 1960, and I’m not so sure how much good they’ve done, considering things like the allegations of gold and arms trafficking by UN peacekeepers in Ituri region (May 2007).

At any rate, as Christians whose brothers and sisters in Christ are being massacred, raped, displaced by the tens of thousands, and grievously injured in so many ways in the DRC, we must pray. If you want a place to give, World Relief, a Christian Relief Organization, has been delivering food and aid to local churches caught in the middle of the violence and terror of the civil war in the DRC that has claimed the lives of over 5 million people in the past 12 years.

I met a local woman last month who runs a branch of World Relief here in Central Oregon. Until I met her, I really wasn’t aware of this crisis. Through her passion and outreach to the Congolese, I’ve suddenly noticed the DRC in the news–you know how that is, it’s been there all along.

Timeline: Democratic Republic of Congo

A chronology of key events:

1200s – Rise of Kongo empire, centred in modern northern Angola and including extreme western Congo and territories round lakes Kisale and Upemba in central Katanga (now Shaba).

1482 – Portuguese navigator Diogo Cao becomes the first European to visit the Congo; Portuguese set up ties with the king of Kongo.

16th-17th centuries – British, Dutch, Portuguese and French merchants engage in slave trade through Kongo intermediaries.

1870s – Belgian King Leopold II sets up a private venture to colonise Kongo.

1874-77 – British explorer Henry Stanley navigates Congo river to the Atlantic Ocean.

Belgian colonisation

1879-87 – Leopold commissions Stanley to establish the king’s authority in the Congo basin.

1884-85 – European powers at the Conference of Berlin recognise Leopold’s claim to the Congo basin.

1885 – Leopold announces the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself.

1891-92 – Belgians conquer Katanga.

1892-94 – Eastern Congo wrested from the control of East African Arab and Swahili-speaking traders.

1908 – Belgian state annexes Congo amid protests over killings and atrocities carried out on a mass scale by Leopold’s agents. Millions of Congolese are said to have been killed or worked to death during Leopold’s control of the territory.

1955 – Belgian Professor Antoin van Bilsen publishes a “30-Year Plan” for granting the Congo increased self-government.

1959 – Belgium begins to lose control over events in the Congo following serious nationalist riots in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa).

Post-independence turmoil

1960 June – Congo becomes independent with Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president.

1960 July – Congolese army mutinies; Moise Tshombe declares Katanga independent; Belgian troops sent in ostensibly to protect Belgian citizens and mining interests; UN Security Council votes to send in troops to help establish order, but the troops are not allowed to intervene in internal affairs.

1960 September – Kasavubu dismisses Lumumba as prime minister.

1960 December – Lumumba arrested.

1961 February – Lumumba murdered, reportedly with US and Belgian complicity.

1961 August – UN troops begin disarming Katangese soldiers.

1963 – Tshombe agrees to end Katanga’s secession.

1964 – President Kasavubu appoints Tshombe prime minister.

Mobutu years

1965 – Kasavubu and Tshombe ousted in a coup led by Joseph Mobutu.

1971 – Joseph Mobutu renames the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko; also Katanga becomes Shaba and the river Congo becomes the river Zaire.

1973-74 – Mobutu nationalises many foreign-owned firms and forces European investors out of the country.

1977 – Mobutu invites foreign investors back, without much success; French, Belgian and Moroccan troops help repulse attack on Katanga by Angolan-based rebels.

1989 – Zaire defaults on loans from Belgium, resulting in a cancellation of development programmes and increased deterioration of the economy.

1990 – Mobutu agrees to end the ban on multiparty politics and appoints a transitional government, but retains substantial powers.

1991 – Following riots in Kinshasa by unpaid soldiers, Mobutu agrees to a coalition government with opposition leaders, but retains control of the security apparatus and important ministries.

1993 – Rival pro- and anti-Mobutu governments created.

1994 – Mobutu agrees to the appointment of Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of austerity and free-market reforms, as prime minister.

1996-97 – Tutsi rebels capture much of eastern Zaire while Mobutu is abroad for medical treatment.

Aftermath of Mobutu

1997 May – Tutsi and other anti-Mobutu rebels, aided principally by Rwanda, capture the capital, Kinshasa; Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo; Laurent-Desire Kabila installed as president.

1998 August – Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda rise up against Kabila and advance on Kinshasa. Zimbabwe, Namibia send troops to repel them. Angolan troops also side with Kabila. The rebels take control of much of the east of DR Congo.

1999 – Rifts emerge between Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) rebels supported by Uganda and Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) rebels backed by Rwanda.

Lusaka peace accord signed

1999 July – The six African countries involved in the war sign a ceasefire accord in Lusaka. The following month the MLC and RCD rebel groups sign the accord.

2000 – UN Security Council authorises a 5,500-strong UN force to monitor the ceasefire but fighting continues between rebels and government forces, and between Rwandan and Ugandan forces.

2001 January – President Laurent Kabila is shot dead by a bodyguard. Joseph Kabila succeeds his father.

2001 February – Kabila meets Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Washington. Rwanda, Uganda and the rebels agree to a UN pull-out plan. Uganda, Rwanda begin pulling troops back from the frontline.

2001 May – US refugee agency says the war has killed 2.5 million people, directly or indirectly, since August 1998. Later, a UN panel says the warring parties are deliberately prolonging the conflict to plunder gold, diamonds, timber and coltan, used in the making of mobile phones.

2002 January – Eruption of Mount Nyiragongo devastates much of the city of Goma.

Search for peace

2002 April – Peace talks in South Africa: Kinshasa signs a power-sharing deal with Ugandan-backed rebels, under which the MLC leader would be premier. Rwandan-backed RCD rebels reject the deal.

2002 July – Presidents of DR Congo and Rwanda sign a peace deal under which Rwanda will withdraw troops from the east and DR Congo will disarm and arrest Rwandan Hutu gunmen blamed for the killing of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

2002 September – Presidents of DR Congo and Uganda sign peace accord under which Ugandan troops will leave DR Congo.

2002 September/October – Uganda, Rwanda say they have withdrawn most of their forces from the east. UN-sponsored power-sharing talks begin in South Africa.

2002 December – Peace deal signed in South Africa between Kinshasa government and main rebel groups. Under the deal rebels and opposition members are to be given portfolios in an interim government.

Interim government

2003 April – President Kabila signs a transitional constitution, under which an interim government will rule pending elections.

2003 May – Last Ugandan troops leave eastern DR Congo.

2003 June – French soldiers arrive in Bunia, spearheading a UN-mandated rapid-reaction force.

President Kabila names a transitional government to lead until elections in two years time. Leaders of main former rebel groups are sworn in as vice-presidents in July.

2003 August – Interim parliament inaugurated.

2004 March – Gunmen attack military bases in Kinshasa in an apparent coup attempt.

2004 June – Reported coup attempt by rebel guards is said to have been neutralised.

2004 December – Fighting in the east between the Congolese army and renegade soldiers from a former pro-Rwanda rebel group. Rwanda denies being behind the mutiny.

2005 March – UN peacekeepers say they have killed more then 50 militia members in an offensive, days after nine Bangladeshi soldiers serving with the UN are killed in the north-east.

New constitution

2005 May – New constitution, with text agreed by former warring factions, is adopted by parliament.

2005 September – Uganda warns that its troops may re-enter DR Congo after a group of Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebels enter via Sudan.

2005 November – A first wave of soldiers from the former Zairean army returns after almost eight years of exile in the neighbouring Republic of Congo.

2005 December – Voters back a new constitution, already approved by parliament, paving the way for elections in 2006.

International Court of Justice rules that Uganda must compensate DR Congo for rights abuses and the plundering of resources in the five years up to 2003.

2006 February – New constitution comes into force; new national flag is adopted.

2006 March – Warlord Thomas Lubanga becomes first war crimes suspect to face charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is accused of forcing children into active combat.

2006 May – Thousands are displaced in the north-east as the army and UN peacekeepers step up their drive to disarm irregular forces ahead of the elections.

Free elections

2006 July – Presidential and parliamentary polls are held – the first free elections in four decades. With no clear winner in the presidential vote, incumbent leader Joseph Kabila and opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba prepare to contest a run-off poll on 29 October. Forces loyal to the two candidates clash in the capital.

2006 November – Joseph Kabila is declared winner of October’s run-off presidential election. The poll has the general approval of international monitors.

2006 December – Forces of renegade General Laurent Nkunda and the UN-backed army clash in North Kivu province, prompting some 50,000 people to flee. The UN Security Council expresses concern about the fighting.

2007 March – Government troops and forces loyal to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba clash in Kinshasa.

2007 April – DRCongo, Rwanda and Burundi relaunch the regional economic bloc Great lakes Countries Economic Community, known under its French acronym CEPGL.

2007 April – Jean-Pierre Bemba leaves for Portugal, ending a three-week political stalemate in Kinshasa, during which he sheltered in the South African embassy.

2007 May – The UN investigates allegations of gold and arms trafficking by UN peacekeepers in Ituri region.

2007 June – War could break out again in the east, warns the Archbishop of Bukavu, Monsignor Francois-Xavier Maroy.

2007 June – Radio Okapi broadcaster Serge Maheshe is shot dead in Bukavu, the third journalist killed in the country since 2005.

2007 August – Uganda and DRCongo agree to try defuse a border dispute.

Aid agencies report a big increase in refugees fleeing instability in North Kivu which is blamed on dissident general Nkunda.

2007 September – Major outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

2008 January – The government and rebel militia, including renegade Gen Nkunda, sign a peace pact aimed at ending years of conflict in the east.

Renewed clashes

2008 April – Army troops clash with Rwandan Hutu militias with whom they were formerly allied in eastern Congo, leaving thousands of people displaced.

2008 August – Heavy clashes erupt in the east of the country between army troops and fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

2008 October – Rebel forces capture major army base of Rumangabo; the Congolese government accuses Rwanda of backing General Nkunda, a claim Rwanda denies.

Thousands of people, including Congolese troops, flee as clashes in eastern DR Congo intensify. Chaos grips the provincial capital Goma as rebel forces advance. UN peacekeepers engage the rebels in an attempt to support Congolese troops.

2008 November – General Dieudonne Kayembe dismissed as armed forces chief over war in east. Replaced by navy chief General Didier Etumba Longomba.
******

The BBC timeline ends there, but I’m sure will soon be updated with the Christmas 2008 massacres. What will 2009 hold for the Democratic Republic of Congo? If all God’s people will get on their knees and pray and intercede for persecutions going on worldwide (this is just one of many), maybe we will see a radical change…

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The Thaw

Tawny and Riley during the thaw
The air warms, the snow melts, and the animals rediscover the earth. The thaw is a messy thing, leaving puddles of mud outside our door, and as icicles drop with a crack, it creates a long row of untidy divots in the ground along the roof line.

But in the mess of the thaw, the cat prepares to pounce as he hasn’t since the thick blanket of snow gave him nothing to leap for, and the dog perks his ears and sniffs the wind as fresh scents are unearthed. And my own heart and senses are renewed after the thaw. What hope!

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the LORD.
Lamentations 3:21-26

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Cole Family Christmas: A Treasured Tale

Hilda the goat“Do the flying Hilda!” JJ shrieked in delight to her brother as he hung over the balcony, swinging a little plush goat. With four young children in the house, nothing surprises me anymore, not even a goat madly flapping through the air, puppeteered from above whilst a child below scrambles to grab it.

This newest plaything came with a book, Cole Family Christmas, which I read to the children a few nights ago. As the fire crackled before us and little ones snuggled in my lap, this heart-warming story of an Appalachian family struggling in a 1920s coal mining town became an instant family classic.

Cole Family Christmas is based on the true story of the Cole Family – Mama and Papa and their nine children, set in the small company town of Benham, Kentucky. Co-written by the youngest and only surviving Cole child, 88-year-old Hazel Cole Kendle, along with her granddaughter-in-law, Jennifer Liu Bryan, this is the tale of one special Christmas in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields.

Cole Family ChristmasOf course, there is a special personality in this mountain memoir called Hilda the goat. Despite the wonderful character development and authentic dialogue of every member of the cast, my children latched onto Hilda. They loved it when little Ruble was awakened one morning with a rough push from Hilda, sending her tumbling out of bed. All of Hilda’s minor appearances were relished.

The rest of the afternoon was occupied with the children’s play, which they performed for their delighted parents. Ruble’s goat provided much comic relief by alternately trying to eat parts of the Christmas tree and Mary and Joseph’s robes. “Another reason not to have goats in the house,” Mama said in a mock stage whisper.

The deep significance of the story goes beyond the antics of a goat, however, and is found in the beauty and simplicity of these family memories, which culminate in the Christmas morning giving of gifts that speaks a tender message about sacrificial giving and cheerful receiving.

Illustrations in Cole Family Christmas are done by Jenniffer Julich, who skillfully depicts Appalachian life with just the right mix of family love and tough times. The pages are bordered with six different vintage Christmas-themed fabric designs, based on Mama Cole’s quilt. Great care was taken by Julich to accurately portray the essence of family life in Benham, including visits to the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum and with residents of Benham, Kentucky.

As a read-aloud book, Cole Family Christmas is a hit. Its 74 pages were a bit lengthy for one sitting for my youngest, so I split it into two sessions. The book includes a nice mix of activity including both boys and girls, so it appealed to my family of two boys and two girls. The girls were absorbed in Ruble’s yellow ribbons and Mama’s glass bowls; the boys were intent on Dock’s work at the railroad, collecting iron scraps and fallen lumps of coal.

If you have an Appalachian heritage, this book is a must for your collection. This is my dad’s heritage, so Cole Family Christmas belongs in my library. If Appalachia is not a part of your personal history, I would still suggest discovering this rich culture that has a special place in the fabric of American life.

The publisher, Next Chapter Press, is contributing a percentage of the net proceeds of sales of Cole Family Christmas to the Berea College Appalachian Fund.

The Berea College Appalachian Fund supports organizations working to improve the health, education and general welfare of people living in the Appalachian Mountains and surrounding areas.

By the way, Hilda is the official spokesgoat for ReadAloud.org, an organization supporting family literacy and urging families to read aloud to their children every day.

Do you have a favorite Christmas story, either old or new? My encouragement to you today: record your family Christmas memories–you just may have a story someday!

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December View

Big L and the dog on a snowy day

Big L out front today, with the dog joining in the fun.

At this moment, there is nothing quite so lovely as living trees flocked with fresh snow, a child building a snow fort among them, and a blue sky above to offer winter cheer to the scene below.

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The Magic Window

The blacktop road swirled in wisps of powdery snow as I drove home this mid-December evening. The biting chill of the arctic wind was numbing, but not piercing enough to cut off the beauty of the glacial billows hovering above the road, suspended for a moment in a wintry waltz.

I was immediately transported back to a long-ago Christmas, the Christmas of the Magic Window. It’s one of just a few childhood gifts I remember. This simple, hard plastic paned oval window encased blue and white sands that would swirl in amazing designs with just a turn of the hand, the colors never mixing, an ever-changing landscape of ocean waves, sand dunes, mountains, clouds.

Magic Window

The Magic Window is now considered a “vintage 70s toy” and I pondered how the simplicity of this object kept me mesmerized for hours in childhood wonder, and how the Magic Window earned such an esteemed place in my memory.

What was so magical about this double-paned case of shifting sand? For a little girl in a rather impoverished and remote desert region of the southwest, I could dream, carried away to nowhere in particular but someplace beautiful on every twist and flow of those magical grains. I longed to touch the sand that surely was silky smooth and would flow through my fingers like fairy dust.

Thirty years later, as I drove home enshrouded in the real-life Magic Window that was the road before me, I realized I was in someplace beautiful, the ever-changing landscape of my life cresting in new loveliness upon loveliness. Here a drop, there a rise, but always an intelligent design.

I wonder, do you hold a special Christmas gift or childhood toy in your memory?

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I think he’s in love with me!

I sat holding my four year old son last night, cherishing the moments that are so fleeting. He began a long and lovely conversation with me that went something like this:

Mommy, you are beautiful! Your hair is beautiful, your skin is beautiful, your “these” (pointing to my eyebrows) are beautiful, your arms are beautiful, your fingers are beautiful, this thing on your finger (my ring) is beautiful.

He went on. And on. We all need to hear that sometimes!! It was a long and exhausting day and I sat rather crumpled in a chair, and when he came to climb in my lap, I wasn’t so sure I had the energy for this. But I was wrong. I always have the energy to listen to how beautiful I am. :-)

Our Father in Heaven thinks we are all beautiful, and I believe He chose to tell me that last night through my precious little boy.

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Christmas Music: Annie Moses Band!

Do you have a favorite Christmas song or album? I discovered my latest rave last Christmas, as I heard a completely unique rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” come over the airwaves.See what I mean? I’m talking an amazing mix of contemporary Christian with classical strings that is now called “chamber pop,” delivered up with the voice of an angel, and to top it off, this is a family band. I love family bands, and this one, the Annie Moses Band, goes well beyond what you might see at the county fair.

About the Annie Moses Band:

First, this is a family outfit, whose members include parents Bill (composer/arranger/pianist) and Robin (lyricist/vocalist) Wolaver and their children: Annie, Alex, Benjamin, Gretchen, Camille, and Jeremiah, in ages ranging from twenty-four down to ten.

Second, their background is in classical music. The older siblings trained in the Pre-College Program at the renowned Juilliard School of Music; the youngest are well on their way to similar distinction. All have studied with renowned instructors; most have earned performance awards that testify to the depth of their artistry.

Together, as the Annie Moses Band, they combine all their attributes: love for one another, prodigious talent, as well as a creative curiosity that goes beyond the classics, beyond even music, and into the great questions of life.

Annie Moses Band

Their music is fused with jazz, bluegrass, classical, celtic, country, and pop sounds, and is hard to define, but overall, there is a message of hope and love through Jesus Christ. Their latest Christmas album, This Glorious Christmas, was just released in October, and includes God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and other classics, as well as another of my new favorites, the soulful Bethlehem House of Bread.

The lead singer, Annie Wolaver, is named after her great-grandmother, Annie Moses. Annie shared about her namesake:

Annie Moses was the eldest of 10 children. She married young and worked the whole course of her life as a hired field hand picking cotton. Despite the difficulties of an impoverished life, she was a tenacious and faithful woman who invested all she had in her daughter, Jane – who would grow up to be my grandmother. Jane was very musically gifted and she passed her passion for music on to my mother, who passed it on to me. Unfortunately Annie Moses died in her mid-40s of cancer, so I never knew her. But we wanted to remember and honour the legacy Annie Moses passed down to us.

What an inspiring story! I am addicted to their sound, stirred by their spirit. The Annie Moses Band cares deeply about the next generation, and hosts a Fine Arts Summer Academy where students can play with the band and other teachers and mentors.

The Annie Moses Band is dedicated to the spiritual and artistic development of young people. We have made it our goal to ignite a passion for excellence in the arena of the arts and to inspire obedience to the scriptural mandate to “Make His Praise Glorious” and to “Play Skillfully.”

The Fine Arts Summer Academy is our flagship showcase for this calling. Students are beckoned to come play along with the Annie Moses Band members and other FASA teachers and mentors, all ages and skill levels uniting in a marathon of outlandish music-making and skill-revving, culminating in three performances of a broadway-style musical extravaganza.

The Fine Arts Summer Academy counters current cultural trends of low expectations and inferior accomplishment by offering students an opportunity to hone their craft. It is an artistic workout that leaves even the most inexperienced participant with a life-changing revelation of their own potential.

If you’re in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and would like some fun, challenging music training for your young one, ages 4 through college-age, don’t miss this! Mark your calendars for July 10-25, 2009.

I’m on the other side of the country in Oregon, and this isn’t an option for me. However, I have friends here in Central Oregon who attend a similar, smaller-scale, music camp with another amazingly talented local family, so check out the Booher Family Music Camp held in Sisters, Oregon.

So, tell me, what music is awakening your soul this Christmas season? Had you ever heard of the Annie Moses Band before?

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My Star of Bethlehem

Venus and Jupiter join the crescent moon

I felt like a modern-day shepherd, or maybe a wiseman, as I drove home last night, the brilliance of the convergence of Venus and Jupiter juxtaposed next to the crescent moon causing me to breathe deeply at the magnificent sight. What a perfect and fitting way to herald in the holy season as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

My children noticed, I noticed, people around the world noticed this awesome spectacle in the night sky. Did you see it? Look tonight…it won’t be nearly as perfect as last night, but it will be there.

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Simple Woman: November 24

simple-woman-daybook-large

For Today...Monday, November 24, 2008

Outside my window…the dark of early morning, but day will break within the hour. I see the bold outline of Juniper trees against the rising sky which now displays several horizontal streaks of the palest pink clouds, changing every second, it seems.

I am thinking…why can’t I get more done? I really, really need to prioritize my time and focus.

From the learning rooms…Big L wants to be a candle-maker. Ever since Friday, when the kids made candles at school, he goes around in the evening turning off lights and walking around with his small lit candle.

I am thankful for…very naturally, my children and husband and home and land. A new friend, good coffee, a surprise thank-you letter and chocolate from my students at school.

From the kitchen…my husband making coffee and getting breakfast for the kids.

I am wearing…a long sleeved white shirt, brown vest, jeans, socks.

I am reading…The book of Mark. The Call of the Wild and The Egypt Game with my students.

I am hoping…for a safe and pleasant trip on Thanksgiving as we visit family.

I am creating…(trying my best to create) a peaceful and happy home full of the joy of the Lord.

I am hearing…JoJo singing to herself/talking to herself as she sits at my feet in her fuzzy robe, flipping through a coloring book.

Around the house…the one room full of boxes from our move–I must tackle this!! I need to return a movie to a friend and can’t find it! It’s in there somewhere.

One of my favorite things…Sunday mornings talking about the Lord with my family. Teaching our children. Walking about our property searching for any interesting thing–bones, feathers, rocks, nests.

A few plans for the rest of the week…getting caught up with our business and ordering the product we need for Christmas sales.

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you…(me at the ranch…my daughter took the picture, she’s still learning…)

Jen at the ranch

Hosted by the Simple Woman.

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Text Messaging: Concerns for the Adolescent

text messagingI’ve been thinking about text messaging and whether parents are concerned about their child’s use of this social media. My own children are too young for this and don’t have cell phones; however, as a middle school teacher, I’ve been seeing how widespread texting has become, and I have concerns.

A parent of one of my students was recently telling me about her 12 year old son receiving “interesting” text messages from a female classmate; another friend related how her 7th grader regularly receives dozens of texts a day up to 11 p.m. from classmates and friends of both sexes.

Is texting just akin to the talking on the phone that we parents engaged in as young adolescents? Some things to consider:

Texting gives your child a privacy in conversation that he or she may not be ready for, and may be inappropriate.

Texting allows for an immediacy in written conversation that opens the door to impulsive, potentially hurtful words.

Texting removes the inhibitions of face-to-face or even over the phone conversations, and may result in inappropriate messages.

Text messaging is a simple idea, but despite its extreme brevity is really a complex form of communication, simply for the lack of context (i.e., emotion, expression, descriptive words) it provides for any texting conversation.

Some suggestions for adolescents regarding text-messaging:

1. Consider the worst possible interpretation your words could have, or the worst possible situation that could result from them. Know that text messages, especially abbreviations, can be unclear or ambiguous, and not read how you intended.  

2. Don’t have extended conversations via text messaging. This opens the door for every sort of problem, like miscommunication, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings.

3. Don’t be impulsive. Be mindful of your words. (This is a great rule of thumb for any kind of communication.) Text-messaging has a great potential to be a cyber-bullying tool. Or gossip tool. Or flirtation device. Or (fill in the blank).

4. Use texts to communicate information or facts, not feelings. If it’s getting too personal or intimate, stop. Personalize it with a phone call or in person, and if that thought makes you uncomfortable, you shouldn’t be texting this message.

Parents, consider putting strict time/place/person limitations on your child’s text-messaging, such as “no texting after 7 p.m,” “no texting in your bedroom,” or “no texting with members of the opposite sex.” Or simply, “no texting.”

Dear reader, what do you think of text-messaging among young adolescents? Are you a parent with experience in this area? Do you feel helpless at the hands of modern social media? What rules have you instituted in your household?

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When Trials Come

When Trials Come, sung by Margaret Becker (a long time favorite artist of mine), words and music by Keith Getty. You’ll love this Celtic-style song and the images of Ireland on this video. The album it’s from is full of Irish hymns and it’s on my wish list!

Stand fast in the trials, dear ones.

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Sleepover with an 84 year old friend

“Jane is spending the night,” I announced to my kids yesterday. From the wild whoops of joy that followed and the “happy dance” of my five year old, no one would guess that Jane was not a favorite classmate, but an octogenarian.

Part I of the story of Jane is here, and now I’ll give you a bit of Part II.

Jane with Little L at breakfast

This lovely sun-drenched November morning found Jane and Little L in their jammies at the breakfast table. “Gram- I mean, Jane,” began Little L, in the usual way of my children, who, as many young children, mistake any dear older person in their life for a grandparent, “do you want to play a game?”

It’s been over four years since we met Jane, and as I told you in Part I, she was the neighbor whom I sought out as a friend for my mom. It turns out that Jane is a friend to our whole family, and especially to me. I began writing Part I when Jane was beginning chemotherapy for her breast cancer. I had no sense of whether she’d make it or not, and wanted some kind of record of her place in our lives.

Over the course of the year of her cancer, I drove Jane to countless doctor visits and treatment sessions. Thankfully, she had a cheerful-spirited oncologist who didn’t mind my four young children in tow, and a time or two he even proudly held my baby (Little L). It was a year of vacuuming her floor, bringing her groceries, and hopefully modeling for my children how (and why) to care for our elders.

At many points, I was sure Jane would die, and dreaded having to call her only son in Canada. What would I say to him? The chemotherapy made her so sick she was unable to even walk. Jane is a feisty old lady, however, and quit her chemotherapy treatments halfway through, refused radiation, and took her chances. Her doctor was baffled and a bit angry with her – someone with cancer in her lymph nodes shouldn’t take chances.

By the grace of the Almighty God, Jane survived, and as we enjoyed our coffee this morning, I pondered how she has developed a relationship with all the generations in my household – from my children, to my husband and me, to my mother. We moved to the country and don’t get to see her as much as we did when she was a few houses away, but I believe we’ve managed to cement a lifelong connection.

Jane will be 84 in a few weeks, and we were having an early celebration. What an amazing, divine appointment for us to have met, to help her on this journey. And the blessing on my children I consider to be immense. How many four, five, or nine year-olds cherish an “old lady” the way they do? I know I didn’t when I was young. The kids suckered Jane into games of Sorry, Hi-Ho Cheerio, and Monopoly by the time she left.

And Jane is still my mom’s only friend here. I tenderly watched them chatting on the couch last night. “When I was in Niagara Falls,” Jane began, relating a story from her childhood. “My dad was from Buffalo,” my mom interjected, “I don’t think that’s too far from there.” “Thirty-five miles,” Jane replied.

It was a slumber party that didn’t include staying up late or pillow fights. Our twice-widowed guest needed help walking up the stairs and a gentle reminder of where the bathroom was. But I will tell you that a sleep-over with an 84 year old is a marvelous thing, a mix of fading memory and wisdom woven into meaningless details.

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Posted in family life, parenting, the ranch | 15 Comments

Cheers! A random note.

Enjoy your Friday, friends! I’m grabbing my coffee and kids and rushing off to another day of school.

The kids want to take the mice to school for show-n-tell, and I also need them in my classroom for my students’ science experiments (nothing harmful, I promise). Oh boy. My room seems to be the favorite hangout for all the kids – not because I’m so cool, but I have birds in my room, and now I’ll have mice. I’ll need to hide them!

Oh, I just realized the kids aren’t even out of bed yet. See ya!

Posted in family life | 4 Comments

Before You Go

Before You Go, a Tribute to our aging veterans.

For my Grandpa T., who served in WWI, and Uncle Doug who served in the Korean War.

Do you have friends or family members who have served in wars to protect our country and our national and individual freedoms? If so, be sure to thank them today. Perhaps a phone call, a letter, a small gift to convey your gratitude.

From our local Veteran’s Day Parade:

Veterans in the parade

From my blog post from Veterans Day last year:

I remembered an old poem my mom wrote, and rummaged around this morning and thankfully found it. Her father was a WWI veteran. He spent the last decade of his life confined to a wheelchair, the result of mustard gas from the war. My grandpa died before I had the chance to meet him. But, thanks, Grandpa.

ODE TO VETERANS
by my mother

Have you survived the overflowing banks
of spring?
Tramped the long road of summer to the end?
Withstood the heartbreak and chill all
autumns bring?
Seen winter come, and still have breath to
spend?

Then I salute you, veteran of earth’s day.
You who have flown from dawn to set of sun.
Soon you will rise beyond the Milky Way
The toast of all in heaven, the long race won.

Also, you may want to look at my post on the Veterans History Project; here is an excerpt:

Would you like to participate in the Veterans History Project? The Library of Congress is collecting oral histories of veterans or civilians involved in war efforts. You can help by contributing a story or conducting an interview! With over 1,000 war veterans dying each day, the time is now to capture their stories and the valuable lessons to be learned from their personal accounts of their war experiences.

America, please honor your veterans. Remember. Give thanks. Understand that the freedoms we hold dear were paid for, and the price was very high.

Posted in features, holidays, politics/world news | 7 Comments

Oops, sorry about the mess up there!

Give me a few days and I’ll have the mess up there on my header fixed. I just need my tech guy (husband) to finish the hunting season and then we’ll clean it up.

I’m looking forward to a Saturday of catching up around the house. It’s as bad as my header at the moment. Boxes from our move fill one room and are scattered throughout the house and garage as well. I took one van full of “stuff” to Goodwill yesterday, and I hope to gather another van load today. I’m setting aside nicer things for our school’s rummage sale, but other than that, I don’t like to take the time to put on a garage sale, so typically, the bulk of things I give away.

My husband has been listening to Dave Ramsey lately, and keeps telling me, “rice and beans, beans and rice!” Basically, pare down, live simply and frugally, and within our means. Part of the issue in our family is time, which translates into an economic product if you really think about it. An enormous amount of time (and thus money) is wasted in organizing our “stuff,” finding it, putting it away neatly again. A move is a fabulous time to get rid of the non-essentials, as your possessions are being eyed in their entirety, perhaps for the first time in five or ten years.

My sister visited last week, and I was able to finally begin to purge my linens of my endless collection of baby blankets. She has a young one, and just as the little girl happily took my pile of pint-sized blankets, I was lighthearted to be free of the emotional attachment. At one point, though, I did snatch back one of my first child’s blankets, saying, “Wait! This was Little L’s crib blanket, I can’t get rid of it!” However, the thought of perpetually carting this baggage through life for no good reason won out, and the girl took home the blanket. (Don’t worry, all you memory-lovers, I’m keeping one special hand-made baby blanket per child!)

Will you leave me a comment and share with me what five non-essential items you can get rid of today? I’ll leave notes in my comment box for you, and tell you about some of my belongings that I clear out today…

Posted in blog stuff, features | 20 Comments

The Anniversary

Two days after our wedding anniversary this year, my husband says to me, “Honey!! We forgot it! Again.” An even dozen deserves to be remembered. But we both are wise enough to know that the act of timely recalling a significant date is not nearly as important as what’s in our hearts on a daily basis.

Which is why he didn’t watch my face with apprehension as he broke the news, but burst into a sheepish, roll-your-eyes kind of laugh, knowing I would join him in making fun of ourselves — what! we’re not even 50! At least we remembered in the same month. For all the special people whose birthdays we forget, you can see that we are no respecter of persons (um, that doesn’t mean we don’t respect people…it’s a phrase that means we don’t discriminate!).

Again. My husband added that word to his announcement because, yes, indeed, we’ve done this before. Most memorably, it was our 7th anniversary. We were about to sell our first house. It was a small 1970s home with low popcorn ceilings and dreary, dark cabinets–at least that’s what it looked like before my husband went on a remodel craze. He completely updated the place, tackling everything from that horrible ceiling texture to the trim to the windows, and even added on another bedroom, bathroom, and family room.

At the very last minute, I, who had offered nothing to the entire project (except birthing babies and changing diapers, which, as all mothers know, is essential to any long-term home enterprise), decided that the 1970s brick fireplace MUST go. I recommended retiling it with slate. Fine, except we had the house on the market and a couple traveling from another state to look at the residence in two days.

Women can be impulsive like that. Especially nursing mothers whose hormones are still totally out of whack. Miraculously, my extremely fussy artistic (and surely sick of remodeling) husband agreed and even trusted me to pick out the slate myself at Home Depot. People, I can’t even hang my own pictures in the house! But it was clear that this last remaining vestige of the 1970s was an eyesore amongst the otherwise upgraded design.

This is how we found ourselves on that August night five years ago, him mixing mortar and laying stone, me cutting (yes, running a motorized, acutely sharp object in my hormonal state!) squares of slate as he marked them. We worked at a frantic pace, with me occasionally having to stop to nurse the baby and check on the toddlers. I pondered our sanity. Our buyers would arrive the next day.

Sometime about 4 a.m., as I joined him at the fireplace in laying slate over dated brick, desperately wondering if we’d make it, he looked at me with bleary eyes and mortar-smeared hands and face. With a bit of a startle he announced, “Honey, it’s our anniversary!” We were utterly exhausted and filthy dirty, but working side by side and enjoying our combined efforts–not a bad place to be. We laughed and wished each other a most sincere “Happy Anniversary.”

I’m just glad it was him that remembered first.

We’ve promised each other that next year we’ll remember. We have the best of intentions, but it’s safer for us to treat each day as a special one, cherishing every moment of our crazy life, not saving our best attention for one certain day.

Posted in family life, humor, parenting | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

68th Carnival of Homesteading – the putting up wood edition

thcWelcome to the 68th Carnival of Homesteading. It’s that time of year…fall is here with a chill in the air, and winter stands at the door. We’ve been putting up wood. There is a comforting warmth of a wood fire that can’t be matched, and I’m so pleased we have this opportunity in our home. Dad and the kids have been busy.

First, there are the logs:
downed trees

The axe…
the ax

And the beautiful pile, a nice beginning, stacked by my nine-year-old son…
the wood pile

Here are the wonderful entries for this week:
From the Sojourner, My Kids thought I was crazy…a dog food bag made into a tote bag. How fun and cool…but will all the neighborhood dogs be following her around?

Fowl Visions brings us Backyard Plans for Wild Bird Feeding and Bird Watching…welcome to some great bird watching in Clay County, Florida!

Hobby Lawn Care tells us Why Is Proper Lawn Clipping Height So Important? Hint – it’s not “as short as possible.”

Make it From Scratch prepares Pumpkin Pie – my absolute favorite! It’s the homemade crust that makes it extra special.

Stop the Ride has some Soil Surprises…thankfully, this post has nothing to do with diapers or laundry.

Little House in the Suburbs teaches us about Clipping Chicken Wings…for chicks who escape.

From the lighter side, we have German Fresh Apple Bread – mmmm, apple bread from any country is delicious.

A Pondering Heart says I Nominate…it’s time for the homeschool blog awards.

It’s a Learning Experience asks What’s On the Menu? This is for a family of eleven, for a whole week…wow.

From Vermont’s Northland Journal, I found this lovely little story about the warmth of a woodstove. Here is an excerpt I enjoyed:

Townsfolk and neighbors not only judged a man by the color of his chimney smoke, the shape and size of his woodpile were also scrutinized. A woodpile, besides being straight and sturdy, needed to be piled so the wood would cure and keep, while at the same time look like a picture. There was an art to putting up a good woodpile.

Next week’s Carnival of Homesteading will be hosted by Oak Hill Homestead. You can submit your homesteading blog posts here by next Sunday, 9 p.m. EST.

Posted in blog stuff, carnivals, family life, the ranch | 8 Comments

Cat up a Tree

Cat up a juniper tree

A few weeks ago, I found Tawny high up in a tree, meowing rather pleadingly. After spending an hour finding a ladder tall enough to reach the cat, coaxing him with soothing kitty calls and finally food, I rescued the feline. The cat could starve or freeze to death, trapped up here indefinitely, I had thought.

Later that evening, when my husband returned from errands with the kids and I related to them the cat story, my 9-year-old son laughed, “Mom, Tawny always climbs up there and gets back down by himself!” Oh.

*****

Recent blog carnivals:
Carnival of Education
Carnival of Family Life
Christian Carnival
Carnival of Homesteading

Up next: Carnival of Homesteading, here at Diary of 1, on Monday, Oct. 20. Submit HERE by Sunday, 9 p.m. EST.

Posted in blog stuff, carnivals, family life, humor, the ranch | 5 Comments

The Child’s Inventor’s Box

An “inventor’s box” full of odds and ends that has a permanent place in your home play area or in your classroom–this is the child’s invention kit, the perfect tool for science exploration and innovation. The idea is to create the atmosphere of an inventor’s workshop, where there is no fixed set of materials and no particular goal established in advance; rather, the bountiful collection of materials is there for the child to explore, experiment, and give creative expression to his ideas. And voila, an enthusiastic and independent science mind is being created in the process.

I. For the frugal and simple approach, here is a list (in no particular order) to get you started. These materials can be gathered over time from a craft store, RadioShack, around your house and garage, thrift stores, garage sales, lumber yards, and more. Let me know what else I should add to my list, and some simple experiments to go with this list!

  • mirrors
  • magnets
  • metal rods
  • weights
  • small motors
  • coils of insulated wire
  • mounting base and mounting bracket
  • insulated tubing
  • D-cell battery
  • balloons
  • paper clips
  • string
  • rope
  • tape-duct tape, scotch tape, two sided tape
  • tacks
  • rubber bands
  • washers, nuts, bolts, screws, nails
  • pvc pipes with connector corners
  • wire
  • springs, hinges, clothes pins
  • pulleys
  • pipe cleaners
  • casters
  • straws
  • pins
  • scissors, exacto knife (be careful, adult supervision!)
  • cloth patches, scrap material
  • cotton balls
  • bottle caps, wine corks
  • markers
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • drawing paper, notebooks
  • paint
  • paint brushes
  • felt
  • poster board
  • popsicle sticks, toothpicks, craft wood, dowels
  • connector ties, zip ties
  • clamps and glue
  • knobs, dials
  • cardboard–toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes
  • 1-quart milk cartons
  • tinker toy pieces
  • styrofoam pieces
  • propellers
  • tuning fork
  • plastic soda bottles
  • pH test strips
  • hammer and small saw
  • cheesecloth
  • droppers
  • filter paper
  • forceps
  • funnel
  • litmus papers
  • magnifiers
  • fluorescent light
  • Now, what can you do with all these materials? Here are some ideas cards to keep handy, if your child/student wants a specific activity:

    1. Human conductor of electricity

    Supplies:
    one ballon, one flourescent light.

    Directions:

  • Darken the room. Hold the fluorescent bulb in one hand and the balloon in the other. Rub the balloon vigorously on your hair.
  • Bring the balloon near the bulb and watch what happens. Was that a flicker of light? Did the bulb really light up?
  • Move the balloon up and down the bulb without touching the bulb. The light should sort of follow the balloon.
  • Touch the balloon to the glass and see if you can get a spark to jump.
  • You can’t believe your eyes… so, go back to step 1 and do it again.
  • 2. Periscope-mirrored tube that lets you see over walls and around corners:

    Supplies:
    Two 1-quart milk cartons
    Two small pocket mirrors (flat, square ones work best)
    Utility knife or X-Acto knife
    Ruler
    Pencil or pen
    Masking tape

    Directions:

  • Use the knife to cut around the top of each milk carton, removing the peaked “roof.”
  • Cut a hole at the bottom of the front of one milk carton. Leave about 1/4 inch of carton on each side of the hole.
  • Put the carton on its side and turn it so the hole you just cut is facing to your right. On the side that’s facing up, measure 2 3/4 inches up the left edge of the carton, and use the pencil to make a mark there. Now, use your ruler to draw a diagonal line from the bottom right corner to the mark you made.
  • Starting at the bottom right corner, cut on that line. Don’t cut all the way to the left edge of the carton-just make the cut as long as one side of your mirror. If your mirror is thick, widen the cut to fit.
  • Slide the mirror through the slot so the reflecting side faces the hole in the front of the carton. Tape the mirror loosely in place.
  • Hold the carton up to your eye and look through the hole that you cut. You should see your ceiling through the top of the carton. If what you see looks tilted, adjust the mirror and tape it again.
  • Repeat steps 2 through 6 with the second milk carton.
  • Stand one carton up on a table, with the hole facing you. Place the other carton upside-down, with the mirror on the top and the hole facing away from you.
  • Use your hand to pinch the open end of the upside-down carton just enough for it to slide into the other carton. Tape the two cartons together.
  • For more amazing science activities for the home or classroom, visit The Exploratorium.

    pico-kitII. A more high-tech and a bit more costly approach, but nonetheless an excellent option, is the PicoCricket Kit. This is an invention kit that integrates art, music, and technology, and is especially attractive to girls as well as boys.

    The PicoCricket Kit uses a tiny computer which allows the student to make things spin, light up, and play music; you basically make your creations come to life with simple robotics. The price tag is $250 for the complete kit, which includes the following: motor and motor board, display, beamer (send programs from your computer to your PicoCricket), resistance sensor, sound sensor, colored lights, sound box, PicoCricket programmer (to control your creations), touch sensor, and light sensor.

    Also included in the kit is easy-to-use software for programming the Cricket (PC and Mac compatible), USB cable, a collection of craft materials and lego bricks to create motion modules, and ten project placemats with sample Cricket activities.

    This is a reusable kit–only the craft materials are consumable, but are inexpensive to replace.

    Mitchel Resnick, an MIT professor who worked on the project, made an important point about the accessibility of the PicoCricket kit:

    We knew that lots of kids are interested in art and music, so we wanted to make sure that there were lots of ways for them to be able to use art and music as an entry point to explore math, science and engineering.   

    Wow~whether your budget is small or large, there are options. The basic inventor’s box is more time consuming to put together, but cheaper; and the pre-packaged kits offer efficiency but at a cost. I hope you’ve been inspired to provide some creative science outlets for your child or classroom!

Posted in education, features, science | 9 Comments

October Exploring

unknown rust colored spiderOur first October hike around the property began with a surprise greeting from this rust-colored fast-crawling spider. If the image is fuzzy, it’s because my hand was shaking a bit as I took the photograph. I’m not a big arachnid fan, however, I’m always fascinated with a new species, especially if it’s going to be my neighbor, and especially if it’s a potentially venomous creature.

Can anybody make this out? No further pictures available, as the elder daughter poked it with a stick, immediately followed by the dog having it for snack.

new juniperJJ discovered a new juniper, we think. You need to look closely, as the earthy colors blend into the ground. Seeing that the sapling is right next to a mature juniper, and seeing that junipers are the only naturally occurring tree on the entire property, it’s safe to say the kids made a good assessment.

An interesting tidbit on juniper berries:

Juniper berries have long been used as medicine by many cultures. Juniper berries act as a strong urinary tract disinfectant if consumed and were used by American Indians as a herbal remedy for urinary tract infections. Western tribes combined the berries of juniperus communis with Berberis root bark in a herbal tea to treat diabetes. Clinical studies have verified the effectiveness of this treatment in insulin-dependent diabetes. Compounds in these plants when combined and ingested have been shown to trigger insulin production in the body’s fat cells, as well as stabilize blood sugar levels. Native Americans also used juniper berries as a female contraceptive.

I love this lone juniper tree inclining over the cliff at the east end of our property. It seems to grow straight out of the rocks, showing the strength and hardiness of this ancient evergreen.
juniper on the cliff

hole in the rockJust beside this last juniper, I discovered a moss covered rock, its variegated colors indicating countless seasons of moss-growing, which I hadn’t observed before–not that unusual being that there’s thousands of rocks on this land. But I never noticed the handy little hole, and the smaller rock sitting in there, just ideal for pounding corn or something. We know the Northern Paiute Indians inhabited this land before us, and I I can’t help but wonder, has this been there since then?

rock grinder?

Tawny in a rock holeTawny was out for his first explore to the edge of the cliff, and left the children screeching in terror and delight with his kittenish antics of racing up trees and scampering down rock crevices. Just when they were certain he was down to eight lives and lost over the precipice, he would meow his way calmly back to the family.

A fresh rain left this exhilarating scent in the air, and the cat and dog both seemed to understand that this was the perfect October day. Other than an occasional stray onto a neighboring property, the animals were fabulous scouting companions.

The three explorersThese three explorers likewise recognized an ideal day, and with Mom armed with bags for the hunt, we gathered moss, owl pellets, bones, feathers, and chips of obsidian (more Paiute relics) unearthed by the recent downpour. Analyzing the artifacts later will add to the experience. Little L would squeal with glee whenever he found a complete little rodent skull–“Look, Mama, it’s got teeth!” And a particularly large chunk of obsidian found by JJ was met with “it looks just like a canoe!”

One of my young adventurers sums up our October Exploring perfectly:
JoJo loves to explore!

Pure fun. What do you or your children enjoy doing this time of year? And tell me, what do you think of that hole in the boulder and the small rock sitting in there?

Posted in family life, science, the ranch | 15 Comments

Looking up the Exhaust Pipe

Tawny's spot under the van

What does one do when her life feels like she’s looking right into the exhaust pipe, ingesting toxic fumes? When I took this cute picture of our cat a few days ago, these reflections were far from my mind. I just thought, “isn’t that a sweet little photograph – Tawny has his special spot under the van.”

The metaphor hit me later, as I struggled to wade my way through a myriad of chores, overwhelming undertakings, serious concerns. I wanted to curl up like my cat and lie down (but not under a tire!). I know without a doubt there are many brothers and sisters facing life in front of the exhaust pipe of toxic trials, because I’ve talked to several of them this past week – it’s a grim diagnosis, a financial predicament, family chaos.

As Christians, we can flounder about trying to find God in the midst of these stresses and strains and stretchings. We can sink into depression, question our faith, fail to see His bigger plan, and even ditch Him altogether.

BBC2 last month began airing God on Trial, a film written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. In it, a group of Auschwitz prisoners decide to put God on trial. They summoned a rabbinical court, put God himself on trial – and declared him guilty. (God on Trial will be shown in the United States on PBS stations on November 9, 2008, on the new anthology series Masterpiece Contemporary).

In The Guardian (UK), Cottrell Boyce wrote a very interesting article, and I particularly found this bit revealing:

It’s a fact that, although many people lost their faith in the camps, just as many had it renewed. As French philosopher La Rochefoucauld says: “A great storm puts out a little fire, but it feeds a strong one.” Reading the Bible in the light of the Holocaust was a bit of a storm for me. It came close to putting out my fire, but in the end it blew stronger.

I didn’t tell you the end of the story. After they find God guilty, one of the rabbis says: “So what do we do now?” The reply is: “Let us pray.” Is this a wry story about Jewish stoicism? Is it about a failure of moral courage? Or what? For me, it’s about faith.

When I was 21 years old, a fresh college graduate enjoying life and a new job in Washington, D.C., I felt compelled to memorize James Chapter 1. I worked on it each day as I walked from the Metro station in Silver Spring, Maryland, to my cousin’s house, where I was living for the year. The beginning of the chapter basically extols the benefits of tribulation, and though I had no outstanding troubles during this period of my life, it was God-ordained that I have this stored in my memory for the future.

I was especially good at verses 2-4, coming at the start of the chapter:

2Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

By the time verse 27 came around, I was a bit fuzzy, but still, after 17 years, I basically have James Chapter 1 memorized. Good thing, because when I have those days when I feel like I’m under the van sucking exhaust or about to get run over by a tire, or when I want to put God on trial, it’s critical that I remember there is a purpose to our hardships. That purpose being a faith-producing experience, an endurance-strengthening exercise, and the goal of becoming more and more perfected in Christ Jesus.

I wonder, have you been looking up the exhaust pipe lately? What has helped you the most through these times?

Posted in family life, religion | 7 Comments

The Home Fire’s A-Going

“There is no place more delightful than one’s own fireplace.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Ancient Roman Writer and Statesman, 106 BC – 43 BC.

our new fireplace

I’m totally delighting in this lovely fire my husband built tonight. The woodbox is full and the house is warm! We are halfway moved into our new house, and hope to have the move completed within a few weeks.

It’s been a long time since I sat in front of a wood fire in my own home. The rented house we’ve been living in for the past two years didn’t have a fireplace; the house we owned for the two years before that had a “fake” natural gas fireplace; our home for the five years prior to that possessed a wood fireplace with a nasty habit of filling the house with smoke every time we dared use it.

Downed juniper trees scatter the property, the victims of our building project. Don’t cry for them, they’re keeping my hearth warm. I love the smell of juniper; we just can’t invite Chuck and Connie over when we’re burning juniper, he’ll turn beet red and break out in hives or something. He’ll have to bring his own pine logs. The rest of you, come in and sit a spell and let us tell you a tale of God’s goodness and merciful provision.

We are not finished, quite. Almost, but not quite. We are trusting God for the working out of some final important pieces, and wouldn’t you know, dear Christian, when that last lap of the marathon is about to kill you, that famous second wind can sustain you, the powerful wind of the comforting, helping Holy Spirit. Someday I’ll get to tell you the story of a little girl who grew up in a dirt-floored shack and now sits before the warm hearth of a mansion, the gift of her Father who loves her. Until then, keep the home fires burning. Blessings.

Posted in family life, religion, the ranch | 15 Comments

Don’t Get Mad!

Following up on my last post about teaching patience to children, here is another great resource I discovered on overcoming anger. I’ll be going through this short worksheet with my own children as well as my students. If you are battling with anger or have a child who does, I’d recommend reading the scriptures listed here and memorizing them with your children.

Don’t Get Mad!

Take Preventive Steps to Avoid Getting Angry(material gathered from Doug Britton, author of Victory Over Grumpiness, Irritation and Anger; permission granted to print for personal use)

Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20).

There is such a thing as “righteous anger,” but most of our anger is not righteous. In fact, our anger usually is destructive.

My greatest obstacle to overcoming anger is _________________________________________ .

Compare your answer to:

“Not recognizing I am sinning when I am angry.” It is rare that our anger is righteous anger. As James wrote: Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20).

I won’t have as much trouble getting angry if I am ___________________________________________. 

Compare your answer to:
Loving. David had every right to be angry with his son Absalom. After all, Absalom wanted to kill David, yet David loved Absalom passionately, and grieved deeply when he learned of his death.
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel18:33).

Patient. Look at God’s example in 2 Peter 3:9 and then read Proverbs 15:18.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
• A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel (Proverbs 15:18).

Eternally-minded. Look at Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Forbearing. Read Ephesians 4:2 and Colossians 3:13.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).
• Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

Understanding of other people. Read about God’s understanding in Hebrews 4:15.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Aware of anger’s destructiveness. Read about the results of anger in Psalm 37:8 and Proverbs 15:1.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil (Psalm 37:8).
• A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).

Secure in who I am in God. Read about Jesus’ silence before Pilate in Matthew 27:12-14. Note that Jesus didn’t “need” to defend himself.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor (Matthew 27:12-14).

Personal application

I will pray to become more: ___________________________________________________.

One practical step I will take to make this change is: ________________________________________________________________________________________.

Key Bible verses on anger management: 
    

A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated (Proverbs 14:17).     

Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).     

It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).     

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control (Proverbs 29:11).     

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).     

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26-7).     

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).     

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8).     

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:19-20).

Blessings to you, my friend, as you work toward victory over anger! I’m right there with you, and I’ll share some more later about how this process is going with my students and my family. Remember, HE IS ABLE, and our God has already won for us every victory, and I plan on not turning down my blue ribbon. :-)

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Teaching Patience to Children

The information below comes from The Patient Parent. I’ve been praying for strategies to deal with a few (many, actually) of the students in my class who deal with anger management issues. What’s the best way to handle the child who breaks pencils, rips up papers, and bursts into angry tears, and you’re not even sure what caused this reaction? Does one use the kid gloves or a firm hand? I’m a teacher, not a counselor, I want to cry out. However, in today’s world, a teacher must be both. This was a helpful website I discovered, and I hope to incorporate some of these ideas into my interactions with these students.

I don’t always like “strategies” or “techniques,” and prefer to rely on God’s wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to help me discern what is best for each individual. However, didn’t God gift this person with insight to help little ol’ me?! Thank you, Patient Parent, for the following:

Below are three primary temperaments of children (remember that children can cross over into more than one, so get to know them all), their characteristics, and how to work with each on patience skills…You can begin to incorporate these ideas around age 3.

1. FEISTY
High Activity Level
Irregular
Slow to Adapt/Transition at times
Approaches New Things with Vigor
Intense, Sometimes Physical Reactions (Positive and Negative)
Low Persistence
Low Focus

    Teaching Patience to Feisty Kids:

•Need Opportunity and Challenge
•Leadership Options (“little helpers/little mommies or daddies”
•Faster-Paced Activities & Games
•Work on Cooperative Play (pass the blocks; roll the ball; clean up time)
•Work on Etiquette (please and thank you)
•Burn off the Energy!
•Coping Strategies – breathing, touchstones like a smooth rock or soft toy, anger dance (silly physical dance to calm down), counting, self talk (“He didn’t mean to bump into me.”)

THREE ELEMENTS OF PATIENCE

Empathy
•Cooperative games (It’s okay to lose.)
•Discussing feelings (After given some space to calm down)
•Problem solving (giving three options and allowing them to choose)
•Work on social cues…facial expressions, body language, hands to self, quiet voice, personal space
•Recognize that they need to burn off energy for focus

Mindfulness
•They’re going to want to argue about what happened and why they are right. Instead…
•Rather than focusing on the past, ask what can be done now to solve it.
•Offer mindful coping for frustrations like breathing, counting, bringing them back into their bodies; touchstones; anger dance (shake it off physically and in a silly way; get them to lighten up)

Self-Leadership
•Getting control of selves will be very important (allow time for that)
•Give space to cool off (so they don’t hurt themselves or anyone else)
•Make lists to build a routine during play to reduce frustration with others (everyone gets to choose an activity to add)
•Helping skills
•Put them in charge of something each day (feeding pets, watering plants, bussing dishes, snack helper)
•Talk about language of a leader, please and thank you, calm voices

2. FEARFUL
Slow to adapt in new situations
Physically sensitive
Withdrawal
Distracted by other children; noise
Crave routine
Intense reactions if stressed or pushed

    Teaching Patience to Fearful Kids:

•Need Time and Practice
•Build in Time for Decisions/Transitions
•Be Their Safe Harbor
•Work on Repetitive Activities
•Maintain Daily Routines; Prepare them if things are going to change.
•Provide Coping Strategies/Touchpoints
•Encourage Talking Out Problems

Empathy
•I feel…
•Taking turns, respecting their personal space; practicing affection to gain a comfort level with others (shaking hands, high fives, holding hands to start)
•Respect fears; take them seriously to teach them to trust themselves; talk through fears; explain differences between fantasy and reality; dreams and awake time

Mindfulness
Tend to think of what ifs…help them to focus on now and what’s happening now; are they safe now?

Self-Leadership
•Being in control of their emotional responses
•Self-Talk
•Relaxation exercises to calm anxieties (close eyes and think of a beautiful place or their favorite activity)
•Practice helping others; can take away focus on self
•Work with them on projects if they feel overwhelmed

3. FLEXIBLE
Sunny Disposition
Regular Feeding, Napping
Fairly Persistent
Low Intensity/Low Sensitivity
Highly Adaptable

    Teaching Patience to Flexible Kids:

•Need Acknowledgement
•Show Interest in Their Ideas/Play
•Promote Natural Cooperativeness
•Share Your Lap
•Praise Skills Specifically

Empathy
•Naturally empathetic but can lose this if needs aren’t met
•They tend to be popular, so praise them for including others in play
•Watch for times when they hide emotions or use as attention devices; use as opportunity to talk through feelings and acknowledge them; explain why you have disciplined them

Mindfulness
•If they are being silly or acting out, ask how they’re feeling right in that moment…happy, sad, angry, alone, excited?
•Working together; what can we do to make things better right now?
•Give choices to work out feelings

Self-Leadership
•Encourage helpfulness and cooperation…tend to get along well with others; provide opportunities for group play as well as solo play
•Like lots of people, so talk about the importance of including others who may feel left out
•Ask for help in solving problems; they will enjoy being included
•Work with them on projects to give them one-on-one time
•Keep it fun; allow practice before criticizing

I trust this was helpful to some of you! Blessings to you all as you raise your children, in your parenting and your teaching.

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