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The Snowed In Homeschool

As I write this, it is bitterly cold outside and the fire in our living room is roaring.  Although some outdoor work does need to be done, it is much more pleasant and safer to be inside.  But each year there’s the question, “How can children be happy and learn well when stuck inside because of cold, snow, or ice?”

In “The Snowed In Homeschool” eight veteran homeschooling moms have written about their own solutions to this annual problem.  Most of them have younger children, so many of the suggestions are for little ones, but there are insightful posts for older ones as well.

Tricia hints at an inspiring story about a grandma who was snowed in, taught her grandchildren to draw with chalk  pastels, and thus started a family tradition that led to the You ARE an Artist video lessons.

Other mamas discuss games, winter physical education, snow studies, reading, seasonal themes, nature study opportunities, making a nature table, podcasts, art projects, and the Great Backyard Bird Count.  There are so many ideas here, even for someone who has homeschooled over twenty years!

Winter is our family’s cozy season and, now that the kids are older and sledding days seem to be behind us, we use the season to focus on formal learning.  Or at least that was my plan when I wrote my contribution to this post, but we have already once dropped bookwork for the sake of puzzling by the fire, and other plans seem to be in the offing as well.  But who said learning has to be formal to be effective?

Over the last two decades, winter has become the time when I evaluate our progress, plan the rest of the year, and work on homeschooling records.  Here is my contribution to “The Snowed In Homeschool“, much less practical than most of the other contributions:

After the holidays, it’s time to get Back to School.  Occasionally the surrounding schools are closed because of ice or snow but we still study hard on those days.  In fact, the winter term, with its lack of gardening, harvesting, and visits to the horse barn, are our best school days and we try hard to tackle just a bit of extra learning then.  Winter is an excellent time to have a reading week, and reading aloud is one of the best ways to enjoy the cold days (here’s a list of our favorite read alouds).    Cabin fever can be cured by museums and malls, and always there is our roaring fire, warm tea, and games.

Each winter I think about how the school year has gone so far and often panic at how ‘little’ we have done (Not Finishing the School Year, Halfway Through the Homeschool High School Year), but I have learned not to let the children notice my panic because they are working as hard as they can.  Sometimes I rejoice at how much they have accomplished. Occasionally, though, we make significant mid-year changes.

Whatever you plan to do in your homeschool this winter, do check out “The Snowed In Homeschool” for those inevitable blue days when everyone has cabin fever.  No matter what the ages of your children or your homeschool style, you will find something to help your family make the most of winter.


If you enjoyed this nature devotional, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Review: Made for the Journey by Elisabeth Elliot

As a young woman, Elisabeth Elliot worked hard to prepare for her first missionary experience, learning and reducing to writing the Colorado’s language in the jungles of Ecuador.  Because she was doing what God called her to do, she fully expected God’s blessing on her work.  After all, that’s the way the world works, right?

But in Made for the Journey (formerly titled These Strange Ashes) the young Elisabeth Elliot discovers that God’s ways, even when we are obeying him, are often not what we expect.  God’s ways are so much higher than ours, so incomprehensible that they often make no sense to us. In the ultimate example, Jesus’ death was folly to the Gentiles, a stumbling block to Jews, and still is utter foolishness to unbelievers, and yet it was God’s wisdom. As Elisabeth learned, we humans need to learn to let go of our expectations of how the God of the universe will act.

Made for the Journey:  One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador is, in essence, a moving and detailed account of confronting this lesson.  Elisabeth, eager and enthusiastic, heads out to meet the Colorado tribe, along the way telling us colorful stories and giving her impressions.  When she eventually finds someone who is willing to ‘give her words’ and help her record the language, she discovers, to her chagrin, that she would rather be doing housework.  She deftly tells of jungle creatures, getting lost, and roller coaster horse rides through the night.  As a travel account, this story is superb, but it is so much more.  As Elisabeth recounts tragedy after tragedy, she struggles with the fact that God does not act the way she confidently expected him to.  In both her life and the book, a small strand of romance relieves the anguish somewhat, but true comfort comes in the conclusion:

God makes no mistakes. He does not fall asleep. He does not forget His loved children.  He asks us, every day, no matter what circumstances or adversities we find ourselves in, to trust and obey.  He has so arranged things that we may not often fathom His sovereign purposes, but now and then He vouchsafes to us a glimpse of what He is up to.  (P 164)

As Kay Warren wrote in the Foreword and as many others, myself included, have found, one of the things He was up to in Elisabeth’s challenges was preparing a teacher who would show us our God.  “May her experiences—and her confident conclusion—strengthen you for your journey….”

All of us Christian parents are on a journey, pouring our lives into our children, trying to do God’s work in God’s way, fully expecting his blessing in a way that makes sense to us.  But at times children walk away from God.  What then? Elisabeth’s conclusion applies to us, too:

We should not be surprised at the mysterious ways in which our loving Father works all things together for good.  We need to go back again and again to God’s guidebook, the Bible.  It’s all spelled out there….

The apostle Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1Pet. 4: 12-13).

May God bless us all, giving us what we need to be able to trust and obey him in all circumstances.  Made for the Journey is one of the ways he is equipping me for this.

If you enjoyed this review, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

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

This may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Seeing Subtleties


Sometimes, when all the color is stripped away by winter, it can be hard to see beauty.  Then we need to look more closely.  Often, we can then see things that we could not see before.  We start to notice subtleties and miracles, we discover mysteries, and our minds calm down and are filled with wonder.

It’s not only the winter of nature that does this.  The hard, bare times of our lives, too, can be a blessing.  They can lead us to rely more on God, to search for his goodness, and to find it in his truth.

I see wild-haired Einstein in this willow

After my walks (what a blessing that I am strong enough and steady enough to go for walks again!) I come inside to the warmth and stand by the fire.  I admire our amaryllis or taste a wee bite of strawberry cake.  And I try to remember one lesson:  when beauty and blessings seem to have disappeared, I just need to look more determinedly.  Perhaps all I will be left with is a mystery, like these dead bees, but it will not be a mystery to God.

This week, I urge you to go outside into nature, even if the weather is extreme.  At the very least, you will enjoy coming back inside, and who knows what beauty or lessons or mysteries God may have waiting for you?   Please tell us about your outside time in the comments and feel free to include a link.


If you enjoyed this nature devotional, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I occasionally show up, or connect with me on GoodReads where I eventually share what I read. 

Medieval Europe: Power and Splendor


Those two words, ‘medieval Europe’, conjure up images of splendor and power, knights and castles, monasteries and missionaries, plague and privation.

Recently, however, when we visited the Medieval Europe Exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History, I came away with a completely different feeling.  Among the armour, jewellery, tapestry, and everyday utensils, many artifacts pointed back to the focus of medieval life, God.  In fact, I was constantly reminded of God’s presence and of the presence of his people.  By the end of our visit I felt a deep kinship with these people of long ago who were so similar to me in ways that matter.

There was a small, fragile prayer book exactly the size of the one I used last year.  It was filled with color and beauty as well as words. Someone, centuries ago, repeatedly held that little book in his or her hands, treasuring its words, praising God, and praying.  How did this person live?  What were his or her dreams, worries, tasks, and everyday activities?  Was he or she comforted by this little book and by its testimony to God’s goodness in the midst of a difficult world?

The book of Colossians on vellum.

On the other hand, this large book of Colossians, written on vellum, brought home to me the fact that the Bible is, indeed, a library of books.  How much space it must have taken up on shelves!  How treasured each volume must have been!

Fragment of a crown (photo from https://www.historymuseum.ca/medieval/)

Of course, there was much else as well:  broaches, armor, dishes, parts of buildings, tapestries, floor tiles, an ancient shoe found in the Thames, documents, chests, and, everywhere, descriptions and discussion.  For the first time that I can remember, I saw alabaster, an incredible substance that seems to glow quietly.  Some of the artifacts, like the whistles for falcons and the taps for running water, surprised me, and so did some of the descriptions.

Section of a genealogy of the kings of England, 802-1471 AD

Parts of this exhibition gave substance to our study of ancient Britain, the world of Beowulf, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.  Reading these ancient documents is one thing.  Seeing contemporary broaches and other artifacts is a completely different matter.

Floor tiles with ‘mythical creatures’

Dragons were everywhere.  They showed up on buildings, in tapestries, and on floor tiles.  Ever since I read and viewed The First Fossil Hunters, I’ve been keeping an eye out for dragons in history.  I’ll never forget a report from the early 1800s of a small, colorful flying reptile that Cornwall’s farmers tried to exterminate because it harmed their chickens.  (*Sadly, I no longer know exactly where I read that, but it was in a book somehow connected with our study of Beowulf.)  Perhaps the fantastical creatures decorating medieval architecture and art were not merely figments of the imagination as is commonly assumed.  Although evolutionary timescales say it is impossible that humans and dinosaurs overlapped, Biblical timescales suggest otherwise.

Silver bowl

Even though the Medieval Europe exhibition curators probably did not have this goal, the entire exhibition seemed, to me, to be saturated with Christianity. Perhaps that was inevitable.  Christianity was, after all, the central paradigm of those days, impossible to avoid.  God was very real to medieval Europeans, and in that sense medieval society, grounded firmly in reality and religion, had a solidity and significance that ours misses despite our incredible medical, scientific, and technological advances.

‘Mythical creatures’ in architectural elements

For those of you who live near Ottawa, the Medieval Europe Exhibition is available until Jan 20, 2019; museum admission is free on Thursdays from 5-8 PM.     You can see a trailer of this exhibition here.  (Note that the museum is closed until Jan 12.)

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I show up once in a while and am still a newbie, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure: We visited the museum on a free Thursday evening and I am not compensated for this article.

This article may be linked to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

Review: Fundamentals II from Traditional Cooking School


For years we have been interested in traditional cooking.  It began, I think, with the repeated reading aloud of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, one of which we read aloud (and lost) on the plane as we moved to Europe two decades ago.  It went on to an interest in medieval cookery, and it is continuing with hands-on courses from the online Traditional Cooking School.

Earlier I reviewed Fundamentals I, a clear guide to everything from soaking and sprouting seeds to making kefir, sourdough bread, natural pickles, and cheese.

Fundamentals II: More Basics of Traditional Cooking by Wardeh Harmon is not as overwhelming as Fundamentals I, with fewer new techniques to learn and supplies to invest in.  What it does is provide information, encouragement, practical tips, and dozens of recipes, as well as extend the learning of the earlier course.

The course begins by discussing equipment for the traditional foods kitchen, some of it common and some very novel—have you ever heard of a spurtle?—and reminded me that wooden spoons would be very helpful.  We threw out our well-used ones a decade ago when I was diagnosed with celiac disease, and have never replaced them.  Last year I got a beautiful enamelled pan that cannot handle metal spoons and, of course, wood, not plastic, is the right choice.  (Fundamentals II often spurred me on to little changes like this, usually in a similarly round-about way.)  The equipment section includes a list of resources with links, but whenever possible Wardeh also gives alternatives to purchasing something new; she is, after all, an everyday mama with a budget, just like the rest of us.

A detailed discussion about natural sweeteners with scrumptious-looking naturally-sweetened dessert recipes follows.  We have not tried many of these recipes since we eat few sweets besides fresh fruit, the very occasional taste of dark chocolate or molasses, and birthday cake a several times a year.  Still, it is good to know more about the different sweeteners for when we do want to use them.  For example, the peanut butter cup recipe is healthier than the one that my daughter and her friend currently use.

Fats are a controversial topic in today’s society and this course discusses the essential details.  I had previously read The Big Fat Surprise and skimmed Nourishing Fats and Wardeh says similar things and makes them practical with a seven step check list and a chart of which fat to use for what.  If you are new to the idea that fat is actually essential for health, rest assured that it relies on valid research and check out my brief comments on the two books mentioned above.

Wardeh also gives helpful information about meat, corn, salt and superfoods.

Practical lessons include more on making stock, as well as advanced grain preparation methods, travel hints, and many recipes for seasonal vegetables, organ meats, dressings, and snacks.  Once I shook my head—no, one should not cover potatoes with water to boil them and then toss the nutrient-rich water—but the vast majority of the information is excellent, aligning with what I had learned elsewhere and making it more practical.

In conclusion, the authors write, “…we hope that this journey has deepened your relationship with the Creator of the universe, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and that you share the hope that one day, all the cares of this world will be gone as we live and rejoice together in eternity.”

Using Fundamentals II

There is so much in this course—videos, printed material, links, recipes, suggestions—that it is easy to get overwhelmed.  At the beginning of the ebook, there is a checklist to help you be organized about what you are doing, and that makes a difference.  I also found it very helpful to print out the ebook, write notes in it, put an action list at the end of each chapter, and mark those pages with sticky tabs.  In my review of Fundamentals I , I included a list of practical tips for using the course, and many of them apply to this course as well.

I have discovered that I really like the ebook that accompanies each Traditional Cooking School course.  I watch the videos about new techniques eagerly, but the less hands-on videos do not benefit me as much as the ebook does.  For a visual or auditory learner, however, they would be ideal.  The extra links in each lesson are also practical and lead to all sorts of interesting rabbit trails.

Has Fundamentals II changed the way we eat?

We still don’t make ghee or render animal fat or buy grass-fed meat (although we have a bit of this treasure in the freezer).  We do not cook with fermented grains though  I long to convince my children that oatmeal soaked with yoghurt, which is what I recall being prepared on my grandmother’s counter, is delicious.

On the other hand, I am more confident about fish stock, we make our own salad dressings again, and we enjoy the beauty and flavor of pink Himalayan salt. We add raw apple cider vinegar and lemon juice to our sparkling water, use garlic more generously, and make so much stock that we rarely use extra water in our soups.

Furthermore, I learned more about many things, each of which could be a project in itself:  how to use fats the traditional way, how to make healthy crackers, gluten-free Ethiopian bread, corn tortillas, and lacto-fermented ketchup and mayonnaise, and which superfoods could benefit our family.

How does Fundamentals II apply to homeschooling?

Obviously, good health is a foundation to optimal homeschooling, so that’s a huge part of it.  However, teens can also take the course to learn traditional cooking skills and whole food preparation; there is even a quiz to measure learning formally.  What’s more, learning about traditional foods also gives teens a unique grounding in historical food preparation techniques, something that one of my daughters actually encounters at academic medieval history conferences.

Is Fundamentals II from Traditional Cooking School worth it for you?

If you have a teen who wants to study traditional cooking for homeschool or if your family has health challenges, absolutely!  This course (and Fundamentals I) will be perfect for you.  If you currently cannot commit to learning the material, obviously it is not for you right now—although if your inability to take the course is related to health reasons, then I encourage you to drop something else and try it; it could make a difference in your health.  If you already are an accomplished traditional foods cook, then you will not need this course, but you might enjoy the company of other traditional cooks in the Facebook group.  In general, most of us can learn a lot from Fundamentals II, and if we apply its lessons then it will benefit our families.

Finally, if you have not already taken Fundamentals I, I encourage you to do that first (you can read my review of that course here).   In fact, the courses are now sold together.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+, where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, friend me on Facebook where I show up once in a while and am still a newbie, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Disclosure:  I have received a free membership to Traditional Cooking School in order to review several of the courses.

This article may be linked to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

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