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Vacation Wrap Up

Neys Provincial Park

Neys Provincial Park

In our lives these weeks

We’ve been to Manitoba and now we are back home, after 5900 km.  We enjoyed precious hours with extended family, with countless conversations, walks, games, and meals, and hours of play in and out of the water.  Our memories are full of people, wildlife, waves, and the endless tree-carpeted hills of the Canadian shield.

I had hoped to have a slow summer, and it is turning out that way.  These holidays were slow in a delightful way, with long peaceful nights and time to chat.  In another way, they felt rushed because there were so many people to connect with and so little time for each one individually.   But still, it was wonderful.

In our homeschool

The girls did no formal schoolwork (Miss 16 did take her math book along) but they certainly learned a lot.  We drove north of Lake Superior, through twenty hours of Canadian shield, experienced some results of the Manitoba flooding, visited a fossil museum, saw wildlife, exclaimed over artwork, saw black-capped and white-capped Amish, spent hours in the waves, toured an enormous greenhouse, and were inspired by others.

In our gluten free kitchen… Well, I ate separate gluten-free meals and prepared them in busy, gluten-filled kitchens.  It worked, although at times my food was boring.  I relied heavily on yoghurt with nuts; V8 (to drink and as a soup base); packages of coleslaw mix (as coleslaw, in soup, in stir fries); raw veggies like carrot sticks and mini-cucumbers, tomatoes, and salad; boiled eggs, precooked gluten-free sausages, instant quinoa flakes, gluten free crackers, a loaf of commercial gluten free cinnamon bread (much too sweet), pancakes, fruit (cherries, strawberries, blueberries), potatoes and olive oil.  I tried buckwheat ramen noodles, which are quick but don’t taste as noodles should. We also discovered that some Old Dutch potato chips and Doritos are gluten free, as are some Chapmans ice cream treats.  And on the two-day trip home, when we did not cook at all, I added Tostidos cheese dip, corn chips, and pickled herring to my diet.  Strange food it was, perhaps, but mostly yummy and healthy.

In our garden

We’ve been home two days and have spent much of that time pulling weeds.  Because we mulched the entire garden heavily with straw before we left, the weeds were not too bad, but a 4000 square foot garden is a lot of work no matter what time-saving measures you use.  And I’ve been transplanting brassicas:  broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale.  Now they just need water.

Some of my favorite things were

  • Time with parents and siblings.
  • Time with aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.
  • Not needing to do anything at all.
  • Hikes, eating wild strawberries and blueberries, wildlife.
  • Watching the children enjoy the water. Miss 11 and Miss 16 used windsurf boards as paddle boards, standing up to ride the waves. Everyone enjoyed those boards, and we took the canoe out as well.
  • Coming home.

Questions/thoughts I have…  Vacations are great, whether they involve long trips or are spent at home.

Fitness… I managed about 10,000 steps most days, enjoyed short hikes up and down hills, and took one long hike.  That long hike was blissful:  rocks, hills, steep streams, a stag with fuzzy antlers, wild blueberries, and fresh, clean air. For 6 years I’ve been trying to build up strength to be able to walk long distances.  That long hike was the reward for thousands of daily decisions to take just a few more steps.

I’ve also been doing physiotherapy exercises to rebuild upper body strength, although not very faithfully.  Even so, I was able to row a wind-surf board through choppy water around a distant island, a goal I was hoping to meet 5 years from now!  That was wonderful encouragement as well as a lot of fun.  Mr. 19 came along in case I could not make it, and he did not have to help me at all.

Some of the things I’ve been working on

  • Relaxing.
  • Enjoying time with family.
  • Reading Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.

I’m reading… Acts. I finished Total Truth and Daughter of Time. Only two books in three weeks!  Total Truth is a slow, deep book, requiring much thought.  I’m also reading Pascal’s Pensees, A Man Called Intrepid (related to the Camp X stories), 52 Weeks of Family French, and The Meaning of Marriage.

Reading Aloud… None.

I’m grateful for ….  Vacation.  Coming home.  Straw mulch on the garden.

Quote or link to share….   Rather than sharing a quote or a link, I’m encouraging you to check out Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.  It is an excellent eye-opener for high school students and adults and has received amazing reviews.  I would not be surprised if this book turned out to be the best book I read this year.

This post is linked to Kris’s Weekly Wrap Up .

Review: Plain Faith: A True Story of Tragedy, Loss, and Leaving the Amish

Plain Faith

Late one summer night while the Eash family was driving home from visiting relatives, their Amish buggy was hit by a semi-truck.   Seven year old Suetta and five year old Sarah Mae were killed in the accident, and the parents, Ora Jay and Irene, began their journey into despair.

For, while all Amish agreed that the little girls went to heaven because of their age, no Amish adult can ever be sure he or she is good enough to go there as well.  And, even if they had been good enough, dying in the wrong clothing or on a day they committed a sin would negate all the good they had done.  In the wake of the tragedy, these ideas meant that perhaps they would never see their girls again.

Plain Faith is the story of Ora Jay and Irene and how they found the comforting truth of Christ’s salvation.  In their darkest days, they realized, “We’d grown up Amish and lived our whole lives for God…the only problem was we did not know Him.”  This thought and its consequences changed their lives.

Tired of the rat race of Amish life in Indiana and looking for a way to connect with their growing boys before the tumult of rumspringa, they visited the Amish community in Montana.  Later they moved there for a year, and finally for good.  Why?  Because in Montana they discovered the joy of Bible studies, of discussing the Scriptures, of praying together…with their Christian Englisch neighbors.  And in doing so they discovered that the Bible and the Amish way of thinking do not agree.

The focus in their Amish communities was always on rules, not grace; on judging, not loving; on what humans do, not what God does.  The Eash family discovered that anything that focuses our lives on works rather than God is an idol—even if it is a good religious system.

Ora Jay wrote, “…there is no true hope of salvation in most Amish churches.  The concept that faith in Jesus is the only way is not taught.  If we wanted to ensure a spot—we had to work for it and live a good Amish life.”

But, much later Irene wrote, “Knowing that it’s not what I do that puts me on God’s good side, but the blood of Christ.  I can never change his love for me.”  What a blessed change in outlook!

Some people think that theology does not matter, that living a good life is all Christianity is about.  This book shows us that theology, the study of God, is vital to life and death, because in the end it is all about God and what he does, not about humans and what we do.

Tricia Goyer, a prolific Christian author, teamed with the Eash family to share the good news of God’s grace.  Ora Jay wrote some sections; Irene wrote others, and many of their letters to their family and to their grieving parents support group are also included in this book.

Plain Faith is highly recommended for anyone caught up in a works-centered life, for anyone wishing to understand the Amish, and for anyone who loves to see how God works in people’s lives.

For a novel based on leaving the Amish, see my review of The Miting.  For ways to help Amish facing the prospect of leaving their works-centered community for a more Biblical congregation, visit Mission to Amish People.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, and is also linked to Saturday ReviewsWorks For Me Wednesday , Raising Homemakers.

Disclosure I received a free review copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in order to share my honest opinions.

Review: Mastermind by Maria Konnikova


In the past few years I have repeatedly read about how our ‘objective’ decisions and opinions are often influenced by completely unexpected factors.  The mind is a fascinating thing.  For us homeschooling moms who spend our days trying to train our children’s minds, such research and conclusions can have practical implications.

Mastermind, an analysis of research explained in terms of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery stories, is full of practical applications for our homeschools.

Its goal is to teach us to “…be present and mindful and to treat each choice, each problem, each situation with the care it deserves.”

And this care is not only logical.  For example, we can be primed to behave in certain ways by subconscious messages that enter our senses without our knowledge.  Smells, word associations, memories, the weather, and so much more can be very influential in our decisions even though we do not realize it.  However, if we consciously become aware of such a potential influence, it disappears.

We can train our minds to be attentive.  This is very reminiscent of Charlotte Mason’s ideas about the habit of attention.  My children, who have been exposed to Charlotte Mason’s way of learning from an early age, are all able to absorb much information merely by listening.  I find it very difficult to pay attention to anything without taking notes.  If I wished, apparently I could still develop this habit even at my age, but currently I do not care to make that effort.

We can train our attention by learning to be selective, objective, inclusive, and engaged.  Being engaged is especially important, because without that learning is much more difficult.  For us homeschooling moms, that is merely a reminder that our kids will learn better if they are interested in the material and able to focus on it rather than multitasking.

We ourselves can train our minds to pay attention to what we need to by focusing on our goals.   When we have actively thought about our goals, our brain is able to select what we need and to ignore what is irrelevant to us.

Using checklists and formalized structures when making decisions is our best approach to minimizing unwanted influences on our decisions.

Imagination and creativity are crucial to being able to make wise decisions.  Contrary to what most people think, creativity can be taught and practiced.  Another point that I’d heard about earlier with respect to scientific creativity is that lack of fear of failure is the hallmark of the creative mind.  I don’t know how to eliminate fear of failure in my kids (or myself for that matter), but I know one factor is being so engaged with the subject matter that it is more important than what people think.

Various methods of distancing oneself from a problem, such as walking, music, nature, meditation, and art, promote creative solutions. So does play and curiosity.   Here, again, I am reminded of Charlotte Mason’s insights.

Although habits are essential, they can contribute to mindlessness, so we must focus on keeping on learning.  Did you know that our minds reward us chemically when we are learning successfully? Once the intense learning phase in any topic or skill is over, however, it takes a lot more will power to keep on learning.

Great people keep on learning and growing and embracing challenges well into old age…and this is evident in the physical structure of their brains.  In fact, if we are not actively strengthening our brain’s connections we are losing them.  This is even more important for children whose brains are still actively developing.

We can learn from our failures as well as our successes.  Not only is this true, but having this mindset makes it even more so at a neurological level.  Obviously, this is an important concept to reinforce in our children’s minds.

Because we have access to so much information, it is vital that we learn to select what information to focus on instead of allowing the flood to overwhelm us.

The way our brains act is extremely sensitive to the way we think about them.

Completely suitable for teens, Mastermind will appeal to any fan of Sherlock and of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.  It will inspire them to think about how they think, a most useful exercise, and it gives parents some ideas about thinking that can help them in their homeschool as well as personally.  I loved it.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Works for Me Wednesdays, Booknificent Thursdays, Raising HomemakersFinishing Strong , and Trivium Tuesdays as well as the Carnival of Homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason Carnival.

Slowing Down

A hyacinth I did not take the time to smell this spring.

A hyacinth I did not take time to smell this spring.

This has been a year of thinking fast, working fast, and reading fast…and even of feeling fast and praying fast.  Although the first three can be positive, the last two most certainly are not.

Therefore, I’m slowing down this summer.  I’m not making a huge list of things for us to accomplish.  We’re having minimal summer lessons for the girls, applying that wonderful 80/20 rule.

And for myself?  Well, I’ll be reading a fair bit but more slowly, especially the Bible.  I have it on my phone, and it has been a wonderful way to read the Bible in snatches of waiting time while I’ve been rushing about, but it’s good to read for longer periods of time, too—like last week when the doctor was over an hour behind schedule.

I can also put Veritas Press’s Omnibus teacher’s manuals on my phone, so during our 50+ hours of cross-country driving this summer I’m going through some of the Bible sections Omnibus VI that Miss 16 is studying next year.  I also plan to prepare for her study of Pascal’s Pensees and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, also with Omnibus VI.  The actual ebooks are available from Gutenberg and my teens found me an app for that.

My summer ‘to read’ pile also has a few health books, some history of science titles, and some blogging websites and books.  I’m also still looking for an inspiring homeschool book or two.  Love the Journey sounds interesting, but I should probably just reread some of the books on my shelf.

Other than reading, I just want to focus on family, relatives, friends, health, and relaxation this summer.

Carol wrote a very inspiring post about really experiencing life as we go through it.  This winter I moved too fast to do that.  This summer, though, I want to take more time to thank God, go for walks with my husband, laugh with my kids, and make memories with the people I love.

May God bless your and our plans for summer!

Review: Child of Mine by David and Beverly Lewis

child of mine

Looking at the beautiful cover, Miss 16 thought Child of Mine would be too sentimental, but it turns out that both of us enjoyed it very much and recommend it.

You see, while there is plenty of sentiment in Child of Mine, it is a solid book, with real characters who grow and change, a convoluted plot that we did not anticipate, and deep struggles about truth, forgiveness, and trust.  It is so gripping that I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, something that almost never happens.

Eight years ago, Kelly Maines’s baby was kidnapped and she has been looking for her ever since, developing quite a repertoire of skills to identify her but losing her own health, self-respect, and future in the process.  When she was almost ready to give up, her private investigator suggested a brown-haired girl living nearby, Natalie, might be her long-lost daughter.  To be certain, all she needed to do was sample some of Natalie’s DNA….

Just four years ago, pilot Jack Livingston had been called home at the death of his sister and her husband.  He had not been back for years and was understandably shocked to be named legal guardian of their adopted daughter.  However, within just a few hours little Natalie had won his heart and he adjusted his irresponsible lifestyle to care for her.  Together with Laura, the little girl’s Amish nanny, he made a stable home for her but now, at eight years old, Natalie was having nightmares and crying spells.

Some, including Jack’s bossy sister San who was Natalie’s favorite aunt, suggested that she really needed a mother.  For Natalie’s sake and with San’s practical help, Jack began to date.  Natalie, however, wanted him to marry her nanny Laura. 

And then Kelly started to take flying lessons from Jack….   

Easy-to-read but not fluffy, Christian but not preachy, and long enough to satisfy any book lover, Child of Mine is a wonderful story of growth and hope.  Its characters still live on in my mind, and I’ll be sure to read any future book written by David and Beverly Lewis.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews and Booknificent Thursdays.

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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