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Spring in January


Spring in January

It has been a very cold winter so far but last week, for a blissful day and half, the snow disappeared, the river ice creaked and thumped as it broke up, and the ditches flowed as though it were spring.

We took a day off school to celebrate. It was an amazing day and, because I love glimpses into other family’s celebrations, I’m sharing our January ‘spring’ with you.

Of course we spent a lot of the time outside, enjoying the fresh air.  Mr. 22, who had the day off, too, cleaned out the chicken coop, Miss 15 cleaned out her bunny’s palace and the chicken hospital cage.  I swished and scrubbed animal supplies in puddles on the lawn, a delightfully childish activity, and Miss 17 tucked compost around the raspberry canes.

The fresh air also inspired us inside, and we aired out the house, giving it a quick spring cleaning, and prepared for the possible power outages that could come with the predicted flash freeze.  Miss 15 baked peanut butter cookie muffins, peanut butter cookies, and her first cheesecake.  We had apple-cinnamon oatmeal for lunch, and I finished a mind map about the cell for our biology studies.

In the middle of all that useful exuberance, some unnamed people engaged in a BB gun fight with the BB’s ricocheting off the dining room forest of table and chair legs.  (One of the guns, among the silliest things in our house, is a pink BB pistol.)

Miss 17 and I walked the short distance to our river, watched the mist rise as the temperature dropped, and took pictures.  Meanwhile, Miss 15 painted her nails and studied biology with her bedroom window wide open.

Later on the Canada Post lady came with two lovely books and left, smiling, after Miss 15 complimented her on her manicure.

Then, early in the afternoon, rain pelted against the window.  As the temperature plummeted, the splashes became pings, and within 15 minutes the window was covered with ice.

It had been so warm that the girls put pop into the freezer to cool.  Then they forgot about it and, when they finally opened it, it sprayed all over the kitchen and into every nook and cranny, even into the closed microwave!   I heard vague scrubbing noises during my nap, but just assumed they had something to do with the new layer of ice outside….

By evening life was back to its wintery normal, with the fire roaring, the windows tightly sealed, the animals cozy in their straw, and the world covered with a fresh coat of snow.  But we have our memories of a delightful and slightly crazy day, the day when spring came in January.

Back to winter the next day

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Review: Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Rebecca and Flora Hawes, sisters in the late 1800’s, are always in search of adventure, especially Rebecca who, filled with an insatiable longing for more than school and high society, drags Flora along.  As teens they sneak away from school, their Paris hotel, and the safe parts of their own city, filled with youthful heedlessness and enthusiastic intentions.  The adventures help compassionate Flora find her calling early, but not Rebecca.  Eventually the sisters brave sandstorms, unpredictable Bedouins, and endlessly bickering servants in search of a biblical manuscript.  Will Rebecca finds what she needs to convince ‘the professor’ that Christianity is true?

Where We Belong is not only about the privileged Hawes sisters but also about Peterson, orphaned son of a Swedish gangster, and young, red-headed Kate, scrambling to live in the streets of Chicago. How these four end up in the Sinai Desert, and why, is a story worth telling, and Lynn Austin tells it well.

As always, Austin’s characters are full of life and zest as they slowly mature, and the settings are filled with story themselves. Where We Belong is not a fast-paced story, but it hints at so many intriguing possibilities that it is very difficult to put down.  As a novel, it is very good.  As history, it is fascinating, based on the story of self-educated Scottish sisters of the 1800’s who did find an ancient manuscript near Sinai.

However, there is more to Where We Belong than to the average historical novel; in this unique book Austin explores what Christianity means.  She considers compassion and how one can love God and help society’s vulnerable in many practical ways.  She shows how intellectual pursuits can accomplish the same goal, especially among those who are vulnerable to lies.  Ultimately, she reminds us that God has different tasks for different people.

A book like this can leave me with the oppressing feeling of not doing enough in life. However, we must remember the vital fact that God has different callings for each of us, just as he did for Rebecca and Flora.  We are not all hands in the body of Christ, for example, and no one should ever suppose that his own personal calling applies equally to all Christians.  This is addressed to some extent in Blind Spots by Collin Hansen, and it is a common failing of those who have been called passionately—to help a certain group of people (foster children, senior citizens, the hungry), to be involved in certain issues (politics, origins debates, pro-life work), or to serve in any other specific ways.  We cannot all be involved in all such endeavors, and we are not commanded to do so. Instead of spreading ourselves thin trying to do everything everyone else thinks we should do, we need to learn to discern how we, in our particular situation and with our particular gifts, are called to love God and people.  And that is, in part, what Where We Belong is about.

Despite the depth of this book is it a compelling story of adventure, youthful escapades, travel, and even romance.  It is difficult to put down and I enjoyed it immensely.  Miss 15 considers Lynn Austin’s books boring, although I think she would enjoy many parts of this one.  But it is true that her books, like this one, are thoughtful and do not appeal to everyone, even though she has sold over a million copies and won many awards.  If, however, you are a Christian and willing to be challenged as well as entertained in your reading, then this book is for you.  May God bless you as you read as well as afterwards, whether you serve in a soup kitchen, or develop technology to enable de-urbanization, or walk the halls of power.


Agnes and Margaret Smith, on whom Rebecca and Flora are modeled, used this as their motto.

If you enjoyed this revew, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I 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 Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

Three Foundational Goals for 2018, and One More

You’ll just have to imagine the beautiful sparkles with which God decorated the tree, sparkles that glittered when the wind passed by.

In the wee hours of this morning, eating a banana in the dark while watching the moon, Jupiter, and Mars creep through the bare branches of our basswood tree, I thought of Psalm 8.  When David admired the night sky, probably while out with his sheep, he asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor….”  God has given us all things to care for, and we praise his majestic name in all the earth.

That psalm gives some perspective to the human practice of setting goals.  We are not autonomous but depend on God for every breath, we have each been given specific tasks, and our overriding goal must be to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.  Within those very, very broad outlines, with the whole world spread before us, we can choose a few things to focus on this year and call those our goals

I’ve been thinking a lot about human fragility and purpose in the past weeks, and all my thoughts seem to group into three very foundational areas where I want to be more intentional in 2018.

Knowing God

I want to get closer to God, to know him better, and to understand more clearly how he wants me to live.  Despite having aimed, for years, to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I am often still not sure what that means in everyday terms.  So this year I want to do three things that will help.

  • I plan to read the entire Bible this year, taking notes and copying out sections to memorize.
  • For prayer guidance I’m using the devotional Seeking God’s Face.
  • For worship I want to focus more on God’s magnificent creation that we busy inside-dwellers so often ignore.

Regaining Health

As many of you know, I often deal with fatigue, extreme lack of stamina, and other health issues.  Although I have had incredible medical support over the past decade, something more needs to be done, and this year I expect to focus on

  • More medical testing,
  • More learning,
  • More intentionality with regards to eating, being active, and resting.

Loving my Family

I have a wonderful family and am grateful for each person, but I have not always expressed that adequately.  This year I hope to spend more time just hanging out with each of them, doing things together, little things and, once I am well, bigger ones, too.

Catching Up

There are a few things sitting on my shoulders that I want to get out of the way—homeschool records, writing projects, homemaking issues, photo organization, managing my working space (see photo below), and more.  This fourth goal is based on the foundational three and will feed into them, but it deserves a special mention so I will not forget about it. However, I will do my best not to let it interfere with the other three which are all much more important.

My plan is to break each of these goals into monthly and weekly subgoals to make them practical and do-able, and I expect to blog about that at least a few times over the year.

Miss 15 said I should include this photo of my desk so no one will think I have it all together—and believe me, I don’t! But isn’t it good to know that God always does?

Last Year’s Goals

I set some pretty ambitious goals last year, to memorize Romans, to get back to walking 10,000 steps a day, and to keep up with the wee notes I scribble to myself in the night.

I did not meet any of my 2017 goals, but trying to memorize Romans was a life changer in ways I never expected—I now understand more about God, others, myself, and the rest of the Bible.  I also learned about memorizing, big projects, and being over 50.

Here is a suggestion for you younger moms: take advantage of your youthful minds and attempt such a Bible memorization project.  Even if you do not succeed, I promise you won’t be sorry you tried.  No matter how old we are, the more we memorize God’s Word, the more it will fill our minds when we lie awake at night, see a starry sky, need to make a decision, or are about to lose our tempers….

Did you set goals for the year?  If you have a blog post about them, please include a link in the comments.  How are they working out so far?  Don’t be afraid to tweak and adjust, and do be sure to translate them into daily or weekly actions.  May God bless you and your family in 2018!

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

Wrapping Up: The Past Six Weeks

Here we are in a December world full of snow so crunchy that it sets Miss 15’s teeth on edge.  The bunny and the chickens, including a gorgeous new rooster, are warm in their insulated places, and our older dog Rex has graciously allowed young Sparky a (small) place in the barn.  Inside, our fire is roaring and I bring cups of tea to anyone studying away from the fire.

Apparently, though, the hot tea is not completely necessary.  It seems that computer ‘mining’ for ethereum, the latest cryptocurrency, creates a lot of heat.  I’ve also been told that it’s very efficient to study where it is cooler.


And studying is happening.  Lots of it.  Biology, logic, math, French, Dutch, Bible, English, Omnibus, physiology, accounting, and more.  I am pleased by how the girls are finding their own study patterns.  Miss 17 likes to do little bits of many subjects each day, and as long as she works every day, she progresses.  Miss 15 prefers to spend hours on her big challenge, biology, and then focus on only a few other subjects before her headache gets bad.  She has even had a few days without headaches, and after years of concussion-related problems this is a great blessing.

Miss 15, frustrated with BJUP’s Elements of Literature because its reading selections are inherently unimportant, has switched to Omnibus 1.  That has its own challenges, but no one can say that the readings are useless.  Omnibus 1, a Christian guide to classical literature and history, begins with Genesis, Exodus, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.  I’m not sure yet about Gilgamesh—the story is quite something—but it was undoubtedly part of Abram’s life and knowing the culture he came from gives insight into his background.  In the meantime, we also have to consolidate the basics of literary analysis, and we have the Fundamentals of Literature study guide I posted recently to help us.

On the other hand, BJUP literature is a good fit for Miss 17 but taking their entire American Lit course is a bit much, especially for a Canadian.  So we will cherry pick our way through the American Lit course, learning a Christian way of looking at literature, and adding on a chapter of humor and some Canadian literature as well.  A fringe benefit of the BJUP course is that it gives a good introduction to US history as well, just as the ancient lit of Omnibus 1 is also essentially a peek into the ancient world.

Miss 17 is studying James Madison Critical Thinking for logic.  I’ve gone through part of it with another one of my children before but got stuck at a certain point and had to let her go on by herself, which she did admirably.  This time we are actually doing it together, so I really do need to understand.  With the help of Kahn Academy, I realized that my problem was simply that I expected logic to make sense and represent truth whereas it is, at certain points, merely a game with certain rules—at least according to some theories of logic which are still being debated by brilliant people in ivory towers.

One highlight of the past month was ‘Leadership Lessons from Vimy Ridge’ with Rev. Dr. John Pellowe, a Remembrance Day presentation sponsored by CARDUS.  If you ever have a chance to attend this presentation, you won’t regret it.

Occasionally homeschoolers notice unexpected gaps in knowledge.  With the advent of electronic Bibles there is much less practice remembering where in the Bible a certain book is.  So we are working on that.  I found a Quizlet to help, and yesterday the girls spent quite a bit of time playing Bible Racko, a home-made alteration of the game Racko that uses index cards with Bible names instead of numbers.


This has been a time of enormous changes in our family.  Miss 20 has moved into an apartment with her older sister, a bedroom was freed up at home, and the ‘Little’ Misses now each have their own room.  There is less laundry and chatter, more texting, and even sisterly group chats on Facebook, something I did not even know was possible.  Change is hard.

But some changes are good, and Miss 15 is feeling better many days.  I’ve been learning about pain, reading medical papers, studying books recommended by doctors, applying nutritional concepts, and also understanding more about homeschooling with pain.  Working memory, the librarian of our minds that accesses our memories when we need them, is a fascinating thing but easily derailed.  Mind mapping, developed by Tony Buzan, seems to be a valuable tool.  Of course, it is completely counterproductive to change study methods when things seem to be working, but it is good to have some knowledge of alternative techniques to help tweak learning patterns if necessary.

We have also worked on chicken health.  Did you know that if a chicken is sick it can be helpful to give her an Epsom salts bath?  Of course, that also necessitates blow drying, and some time in a warm house under observation.  So, for the first time ever, I watched a chicken make a nest: she sits down, carefully selects a piece of straw (yes, straw in the house!) and then tosses it over her shoulder.  After a few hours of this, she’s sitting in a nest made of just the right bits of straw.

For a month now I’ve had no stamina at all and often even the smallest everyday tasks have been an enormous challenge.  I am grateful that I can spend the homeschooling time sitting (or even lying) down, and that things like laundry and kitchen work can be done in little bits spread out between more sedentary activities.  I am so thankful that I can still read and think!  And, in a sense, I am even grateful for my poor health, since much of the reading and studying mentioned above would not have happened if I had been able to rush about as usual.

There is an essay, very influential in the classical schole approach to homeschooling, that discusses work, leisure, and culture.  In “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” Josef Pieper’s definition of leisure is radically different from the contemporary one, and he emphasizes that the only true leisure we can experience is rooted in worship.  This landmark piece in 20th century philosophy considers ideas from the Greeks to the previous century from a Roman Catholic point of view and would be worth serious study.  The whole idea of culture is vital for us homeschoolers to understand, especially in light of Paul’s command in Ephesians 6:4 to enculturate our children in the culture of the Lord.   In any case, I’ve used my ‘leisure’ while ill to learn and in that sense leisure is the basis of culture, although that is only the tiniest fraction of what Pieper is writing about.


I also completed a number of books:

Just Do Something by Kevin De Young, a short, powerful book about making decisions.  Here is an even briefer explanation of similar ideas in a sermon on ‘Your will be done’ based on Matthew 26:36-46 and Lord’s Day 49 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Anthony Van Leeuwenhoek and his “Little Animals” by Dobell, a collection of Van Leeuwenhoek’s own descriptions of what he saw through his microscopes, edited by an expert.  It is like visiting with “an enthusiastic, naïve genius sitting across from you and telling of the exciting world he sees for the first time,” giving glory to God in his discoveries.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper, which contains the essay discussed above; I did not read the second essay thoroughly.

The Mind Map Book by Buzan, a colorful, creative way of organizing ideas, notes, or projects that seems to be very effective for some.  After I learned to make mind maps I started dreaming them, but it is still a bit more intense than my usual way of taking notes and takes a bit of extra effort I have ‘no time’ for.  I think mind mapping may reflect the intenseness of the leisure mentioned by Pieper in the essay I just discussed.

The Wealthy Barber, apparently Canada’s all-time best-seller.  This says something about Canadians as well as something about the book which is both humorous and full of common sense.  We assign it as part of homeschool personal finance (which also includes The Treasure Principle and Dave Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance for High School) and I both laugh and learn each time I read it.

The Cat of Bubastes by George Henty which is my favorite book by Henty.  It includes lots of lush greenery and nature, we bump into Moses, and we learn about some background ideas of Egyptian religion.  Most fascinatingly, however, we learn about the one true God from a completely different point of view.   This old teen novel is an excellent accompaniment to the study of Exodus.

When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin, recommended to me by Miss 15 as the best of her Reading Week books.  It’s an exciting, Christian, thought-provoking war story with the requisite bit of romance.

To balance out the American point of view of When Tides Turn, I read Hilda van Stockum’s war novel for children, The Winged Watchman, based in the Netherlands.  I had never read it before but it is a beautiful story of trust, good, evil, and the importance of thinking as well as acting. And when the little sister accompanied her mother’s Hail Mary’s with ‘Mary, Mary quite contrary,’ I laughed aloud.

Since I have health issues, I skimmed through Green Smoothies for Life and found a list of super-simple detox methods that would be easy to implement and that have been recommended elsewhere for other health reasons.  They are fun, too, and include scented Epsom salts baths.

If you have electronics you need either a very patient young person to give you the Essential Tips and Shortcuts, or the book Pogue’s Basics.  Mr. 22 is very patient and knowledgeable, but after a certain number of questions I don’t want to impose on him even more, especially since I sometimes forget what he told me earlier.   So I really enjoyed what David Pogue had to say.

I love books, so books about books are a goldmine to me.  The Rainey List of Best Books for Children is one of the best book lists I’ve read, up-to-date, Christian, and full of fun for ages 0-12.  If you want to do your kids a favor, do get this book.

The best doctors assign reading.  Here’s an assigned book that covers concussions and pain as well as many more conditions:  The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge.  Its ideas are so cutting edge that they seem almost crack-pot, but the book is full of documentation from scientific literature.  And—surprisingly, or perhaps not— some of the ideas intensify the wisdom of Charlotte Mason’s focus on  attention, music, outdoor time, movement, diligence, and great thoughts instead of franticness.

Our Bible reading has been unusual.  Because we do it at meal times, and because people are often missing, we have been going through our main readings rather slowly.  When my husband is home, we read Genesis; when both of the girls are home we continue in Jeremiah; and otherwise we go through Psalms and Proverbs following a simple formula.  We have been reading a lot of Psalms and Proverbs.  In my personal reading I have just finished Hebrews and I think I finally understand it a bit after reading it many dozens of times through the years, because this time I focused on the big picture.

As for my resolutions for 2017, they have radically altered.  Rather than walking 10,000 steps a day, I now aim for 2000-3000, except on days when I feel too tired even for that.  Rather than trying, vainly, to get the words of Romans into my head in the right order, I am now focusing on general overviews of other epistles.  And dealing with those little notes that clutter up my desk is not as important as filing the huge stack of papers, mostly medical, that are cluttering up both my space and my mind.  Also, I’m trying to understand how to set priorities and plans for next year, learning from the past and trying to avoid its mistakes in the future.

How have homeschooling and life gone for you at the end of 2017?  Are you content with the things you did?  Thinking back, have you been able to learn a few things that you can tweak in 2018?

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

DisclosureI am not compensated for mentioning any of these resources or books.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

Review: The Rainey List of Best Books for Children

Our family loves books.  By reading we learn about God, ourselves, and the world.  We learn wisdom:  how to live well in this world, and what ‘live’ and ‘well’ and ‘world’ mean.  We go places we could never go on our own and learn from other people’s hard work and hard-won experience.  And we have fun.

However, if we read the wrong books we learn only foolishness that wastes our time and, potentially, encourages us to waste our entire lives.

So it is vital that we choose our reading material wisely.

David Rainey, a Christian homeschooler and a librarian, sees his List of Best Books for Children as his family’s legacy to share with booklovers everywhere.  David and his daughter Anna recommend over 500 out of thousands of books that their family has read, discussing each one in a chatty and informative way.  They share toddler books worth reading over and over (like Good Night Moon), as well as funny books, inspiring books, read-alouds, and children’s novels.  These books will provide hours of enjoyment and learning.  I am convinced that children exposed to these books will become accustomed to what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)

Although more and more modern authors are building negative influences into their books, the Raineys focus on ‘good books that are also clean and free from controversial issues, profane language, romantic plot elements, inappropriate humor, and undesirable role models.’ (p 133)  If these restrictions sound extreme, remember, the age range is 0-12; of course controversial issues and romance need to be addressed with older children.  As for the other restrictions, sin for sin’s sake is never appropriate, no matter one’s age.

David presents his family’s favorites arranged according to age and type of book, from board books (remember Spot?) and picture books for all ages to poetry, chapter books (Alexander McCall Smith has written mysteries for children!), and children’s novels (from Homer Price and 21 Balloons to Detectives in Togas).  Obviously he includes older books, but he also has many newer ones that I am eager to discover.

I am fairly fussy about what books young children should read, and when I look at booklists I check how closely the author shares my values.  The Rainey List of Best Books for Children resonated with me in almost all aspects.  In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone else point out that the first 19 books about the Boxcar Children are much better than the later volumes.  The only objection I have to Rainey’s recommendations (but do recall that I have not read many of the newer children’s books) is The Secret Garden, a lovely story with strong elements of pantheism.

Not only does The Rainey List of Best Books for Children bring back wonderful memories, but it also sent me to the library website to request a few of the most intriguing newer titles.  I was startled to see Eats, Shoots, and Leaves:  Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!  in the list, but it turns out this is a funny children’s version of the adult grammar book with a similar title.  There’s also The Girl’s Like Spaghetti:  Why, You Can’t Manage without Apostrophes!  Of course, I requested both.  Also the Alexandar McCall Smith books about young Precious Ramotswe, and Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Celenza, and Click, Clack, Moo, a hilarious picture book about cows that type.  In fact, our family of teens and adults has already started enjoying the new books.  Thank you, David and Anna!

The Raineys also present some useful lists that will enhance trips to libraries and bookstores:  gift books for various ages, books that teach life lessons, princess books, dinosaur books, truck books, fairy tales, and award-winning books.

Of the various tips scattered throughout the book, this is the most important:  get your children to read aloud to you even if they can read well.  First of all, it’s fun and builds relationships.  Furthermore, all sorts of problems can be noticed if you do.  For example, your eager and proficient young reader may not really be reading at all but may have come up with an impressive array of other skills including memorization, guessing, and picture-reading.  When young, my husband ‘read’ like that until his father noticed him keep on ‘reading’ when he turned two pages at once by mistake; one of Rainey’s children did something similar.

If you have children, I highly recommend The Rainey List of Best Books for Children.  Written by a librarian who is a homeschooling father, it is full of excellent book recommendations for ages 0-12.  It would make great gift—I gave a copy to a mom of newborn twins named after Louisa May Alcott and Beatrix Potter and am giving one to my sister as well—and it is becoming my new favorite baby gift.  This book would be valuable for homeschool, church, and public libraries as well.

For more information, see the website.

Note:  There are other great book lists, but many of them, like Honey for a Child’s Heart, Honey for a Teen’s Heart, and Books Children Love, are dated; The Rainey List of Best Books for Children includes very recent books as well .

Somewhat related:  Older readers and their parents would benefit from Reading with Purpose, a guide to discernment in reading written by Nancy Wilson.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to follow me on Google+ where I often mention helpful or interesting ideas, or connect with me on GoodReads where I share what I read. 

DisclosureI received a review copy of The Rainey List of Best Books for Children from David Rainey and have shared my honest opinions.

This article may be linked to Raising Homemakers, Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook

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