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Links for You #1

I come across many useful or interesting links and thought of sharing some of the best with you each month.  Here are few about faith, learning, living, food, and nature.  Hopefully you will find something beneficial here!

  1. Crossway books has a list of articles, videos, and a free book download to commemorate J.I. Packer who passed away last month.
  2. This summer a group of us has been studying Improvement of the Mind by the great hymn writer Dr. Isaac Watts. We have found it challenging and full of wisdom both for ourselves and our homeschooled children.  This old book is available free online in various versions, and here’s a summary.
  3. Super-blogger and author Ruth Soukup shares how she is learning contentment. Last summer some of us studied a book by Nancy Wilson on that topic and we had a great time discussing and debating various points.   Writing about that book study is on my ever-lengthening to do list.
  4. We, like most people, love pizza but good gluten-free sourdough crust recipes are rare. We have been experimenting with making this one gluten-free.  It also shows promise as a flat garlic bread.  What’s especially nice about this recipe for non-gluten-free people is that you can just use up your extra wheat-based sourdough.  We haven’t tried it that way with our rice-based sourdough but have been adding our usual mix of gf flours and souring that. Once we have finished experimenting, I may post a recipe.
  5. North American sparrows are learning a new song from each other and seem to prefer it to their old one!

Review: Unyielding Hope by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

Lillian has just lost her mother, her second mother.  The first one died, along with her father and little sister, when she was a small child.  The second one, who raised her with endless compassion and understanding, died when Lillian was a young woman.  Her father, distraught, arranged for the two of them to go to his homeland, Ireland, for an extended stay, but then word reached Lillian that her sister might be alive, the sister who was supposed to have died in infancy!  Lillian stayed behind to see if this could be true….

Unyielding Hope tells the story of Lillian, her sister Grace, and the orphaned children they meet along the way.

Besides being a heart-tugging story of loss and hope with a little romance tossed in, Unyielding Hope is about adopted and fostered children.  As the story unfolds, it portrays some of the abuses linked to the Home Children program that moved British orphans into the colonies.  As in all such do-good schemes things can easily go awry.  Some of the children were actually kidnapped from their British families and many were mistreated by their adoptive families.  Although that sounds discouraging and dismal, this novel is about hope and is an encouragement to love and understand today’s children whose backgrounds are full of loss.

Writing from a family background full of adoption and with Home Children as ancestors, Janette Oke and her daughter Laurel show the reader the importance of love in caring for those who are wounded by loss.  In today’s evangelical culture that heavily promotes fostering and adopting children, this message is important to the families involved as well as to all others in their communities.

Besides all that, Unyielding Hope is a great story with memorable characters and lots of gentle excitement along the way.  It is not quite like most of Janette Oke’s novels, but her fans and anyone else who enjoys meaningful, gentle storytelling with a Christian message will be happy to read it.

Related review:

Riding the Rails to Home by Cleo Lampos, a grace-filled children’s story about fostering and adoption.

Disclosure: I received a review copy from Graf Martin and Bethany House and, as usual, am not compensated for this review.

Considering Passion and Career Choices

I had no interest in gardening when I was young; now, as part of my current role and service, gardening has become a passion.

We homeschooling moms are our teens’ guidance counsellors.  I find that a bit nerve wracking, and I’m sure you do, too.  Helping our teens plan their future is so important but is so full of unknowns.  Now, there are some good, balanced resources out there (see my reviews below for a few of them).  There are also many books and other resources that focus on the prime importance of passion and personality in career choices. In this article I will consider some problems with the idea that passion should be the determining factor in career choice, and in another one I will consider the value of personality tests.

Myth 1: Follow your passion

‘Follow your passion,’ is both helpful and harmful advice.  Yes, it is good advice for teens to do something they are excited about, but…

  • How will they know what they are most excited about when they have tried hardly anything—and, by definition, most young people have very little experience? How will they be sure?
  • Later on, what happens when they are no longer excited about it, when the going gets tough, or they fail an exam or can’t get a job interview, or they discover that the passion is not all they thought it would be?
  • It seems that reality does not actually support the widely-accepted value of following your passion.

The slogan ‘follow your passion’ obviously needs explanation; as it stands it is too simplistic. For this reason, it is good to know the origin of this career advice and to compare it to views held throughout history.  This is done in a thoughtful article by Cal Newport, which can be summed up in its conclusion:

 The belief that the world owes you the perfect role for your special unique personality is myopically self-focused and ill-suited to hard times. The alternative notion that the world needs you to offer all that you can is comparably liberating.

Learning the slogan’s historical context is not enough, though.  As Christians, we need to remember that the Bible says we exist to praise, love, glorify and serve God and those around us; the world does not exist for us.  Cal Newport, though not writing from a Christian point of view, is right in saying that ‘the world needs you to offer all that you can’.

From a biblical perspective, career decisions should include the concepts of roles and of service as well as the idea of individual differences and gifts. In other words, when considering careers, a teen needs to consider service and roles as well as passion and personality. And then it turns out that serving a greater goal with dedication often leads to enjoyment of work, something that self-centered ‘passion’ or ‘following your bliss’ often doesn’t. People thrive when they are convinced that their work is important.  Furthermore, embracing one’s roles in career decisions can significantly enhance everyday happiness while resenting one’s roles or struggling against them can cause grief.

Thus it is good to be passionate about one’s career and study choice, but it should be a passion that moves beyond the self and out toward service, not an entitled, ‘follow your bliss’ search for self-fulfillment.

Now, all this is difficult to apply and requires wisdom.  Making wise career decisions involves prayer, time, energy, knowledge of the world, self-knowledge, and input from others as well as courage and persistence.  Teens will need encouragement to give the process the time and energy it deserves.

Even with the guidance of a good career curriculum, making a choice can be agonizingly difficult, but ultimately a teen does need to choose. As Kevin de Young wisely suggests in Just Do Something, live close to the Lord and then just choose anything you want.  This sounds flippant and simplistic but de Young points out that living close to the Lord will adjust one’s goals and expectations so that one is biblically able to just go ahead and ‘do something’.  Not perfectly, of course, but trustingly.

If your teens need to adjust their career goals later, that is not a problem; after all, human plans often need to be adjusted (James 4:13-15, Proverbs 16:9).  This is both perfectly normal and perfectly fine and is not a sign of having made a sinful choice though it may or may not indicate short-sightedness.  Most commonly it is a sign that, as usual, God’s plans are more complicated than ours. And, remember, God can and does use all for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). There’s more on all of this in de Young’s book (see my review) but I just want to add this: do not be afraid but move on in faith.

Still stuck?  Don’t let your teens search frantically for a passion, but instead have them consider these questions and more:

  • How did God make you and what advantages did he give you? (Note that ‘advantages’ could also include hardships which have been suffered through).
  • What sorts of activities give you joy?
  • What needs do you see in the world?
  • Is there a way to combine them?
  • Could you serve by doing something about these needs?
  • What do those around you say?
  • Consider the central ideas of Christianity, that our calling is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And above all, remind your teens be diligent, now and in the future, at whatever tasks God gives them to do.  Not only is that how they can show love to him; it is also how he is training them for what comes next.  Practically speaking, then, teens should put a great deal of effort into their schoolwork for God’s sake.

In conclusion, it is foolish to base a career choice only on a self-centered passion or, as we will see in a future article, on the basis of a personality test.  It is much wiser to base these choices on interests and aptitudes combined with an attitude of obedient service and love to God and others. This is something we should teach our teens in our role as homeschool guidance counsellor and our role as parents.

Relevant resources:

Disclosure: I am not compensated for mentioning or recommending these resources. 

Review: Traditional Cooking Challenges

from the Fermenting Challenge

Do you want to learn to cook the traditional way, adding nutritional value to your food with newfound skills? It’s something I’ve always been interested in. In fact, years ago I posted about medieval cookery and we actually own the Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook.  We also made yoghurt, bone broth, and ‘friendship cake’, a type of sourdough.  But as the years passed, we were overwhelmed with homeschooling and illness and some of these ‘extras’ disappeared from our lives. Life happens.

A few years ago I discovered Wardee’s Traditional Cooking School.  Wardee teaches so many exciting traditional skills and offer so many recipes and so much advice.  The school was and is awesome, but at times I got overwhelmed and, unable to decide on the next project, did nothing.

Then, last summer, I joined a 28 day Traditional Cooking Challenge.  Each weekday had a video or two, a written lesson, and hands-on homework, and the weekends were for catching up.  With this sort of handholding I actually learned much more than just from the courses.  I really think the access to an online discussion group also helped—when I had a question, I could check in with others who were doing the same projects as well as with Traditional Cooking School staff.  I enjoyed that challenge so much that I did a Fermenting Challenge not much later, and a few months ago I did a Sourdough Challenge.  Because learning, videos and homework were assigned day by day and were very organized and encouraging, I was able to learn and do far more than I had imagined possible.  It was fun, too, and there were prizes and a graduation ceremony at the end.  Wardee and the other hosts are such enthusiastic and encouraging women.

I especially love that the Traditional Cooking School is unabashedly Christian, unlike many traditional foods resources.  As Joel Salatin writes in The Pigness of Pigs, Christians, as stewards of God’s creation, should be at the forefront of stewardship of both the earth and our bodies.

If you are at all interested in traditional cooking, you may find these Traditional Cooking School challenges a great way to get started.

Here is more information about each challenge:

The Traditional Cooking Challenge (28 days) covers a bit of most things in the Traditional Cooking School:  Cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, salad dressing (one of the best we’ve ever tasted), soaked  nuts, beans, sprouting, chicken stock, soaked flour muffins that have become our standard, and even extra-nutritious, extra-delicious larabars, and more.

I didn’t do everything in the 14 day Fermenting Challenge, but I learned so much.  As you can see in the photo, I fermented ketchup, salsa, ginger carrot sticks, switchel, and two kinds of pickles, and they were all yummy.  In fact, the ketchup was the best I ever tasted and it was fun to be enjoying a super-healthy version of something that is very unhealthy in its commercial form. Although it wasn’t necessary, I also made the effort to get airlocks (the funny things on top of the jars), which help keep bad bacteria out of ferments.  And I just loved having them fermenting on my counter like this—the colors were so vibrant that this is still one of my favorite photos of last summer.

This spring, when our world started shutting down, I took out the gluten-free sourdough started I’d ambitiously purchased earlier* (and then stored in the freezer) and signed up for the 14 day Sourdough Challenge. That was a life-changer and we now regularly eat sourdough gluten-free English muffins and bread, with the occasional cake and pizza.  I’m continuing to learn and soon I’m hoping to figure out how to make a sourdough gluten-free focaccia bread.   (*Note that if you are not gluten free you can easily make your own starter according to the instructions in the Challenge, but apparently gluten-free starter is a whole lot more finicky.)

After that I signed up for a 14 day Cultured Dairy Challenge, but between the garden and an increased homeschooling load, I went nowhere with it.  It’s still available for me to do on my own whenever I can fit it in—likely in November when the garden is empty and the pantry and freezers are full again.  It will involve making yoghurt, sour cream, various kinds of cheeses, and a probiotic ice cream.

After all this learning, what sticks? Well, there is something cultured, fermented, or soured almost every day.  Sometimes it’s kefir or salad dressing with fermented ingredients; cheese is rarer.  We have sourdough almost every day.   When our cucumbers are ready, I’m planning to make cheese to have enough whey to ferment them rather than pickle them with vinegar.  Although that sounds like a lot of work, there is creativity, deliciousness, and health all along the way.  I find that being immersed in a traditional cooking mindset also leads to subtler changes that impact our health, tiny things that will add up, from using sea salt to minimizing commercial vegetable oils, from sometimes using our cast iron pan instead of a no-stick one to eating organic as much as possible—which currently means we have a big garden.

If your homeschooled teens want a project to go with their history studies or would like an entire Foods and Nutrition Credit, they can use a few of these challenges as a primary resource—but even if they don’t want to formally study traditional cooking, they will learn a lot just enjoying the results of your new skills.

There does not seem to be a challenge going on currently, but if you wish to learn more it’s a good idea to check out Wardee’s podcast, blog, and newsletter.  There’s so much you can learn from her for free and it’s a good way to decide if traditional cooking is for you. If it seems promising, I recommend starting with her intro series of five free videos.   You should also sign up for the free 30 day trial of the Traditional Cooking School some day when you can devote lots of time to exploring and learning or when a challenge is running, since challenges are included in the membership.

Is a Traditional Cooking School challenge a worthwhile investment for you?  If you wish to improve your family’s health and kitchen skills, I think it is. You will learn various new skills and try healthy new foods while Wardee and her team hold your hand; you can print out the daily lessons to refer back to later; and you will improve your family’s health one step at a time.  On the other hand, if you have no time and no way to free up any, I suggest waiting until a better season—but do check out her blog and podcast occasionally because better health saves a lot of time in the long run.

I have reviewed these Traditional Cooking School courses in the past:

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

Other Priorities

Several times over the past few months I tried to write a blog post and it just wouldn’t work.  For a long time I couldn’t figure out why and then it hit me:  I’ve been busy with other priorities.

Here are some of them.

When homeschooled teens take advanced courses, sometimes mom needs to scramble.  I have had an intense but wonderful spring relearning calculus and intro physics after 35 years.  It’s funny what sticks after such a long time, and what has disappeared from memory.  It’s also amazing to watch a young person learn these fascinating subjects.

We have also been digging into the world of food science and as a gardener/traditional food person I am astonished.  Apparently it’s a good thing that “food scientists have made great strides in expanding the food supply. They have developed thousands of new food products and many food processing methods.”  In any case, we’ve invested in the textbook, it teaches a lot of useful things, and I’m making a study guide, modeled on those that come with Apologia’s high school science texts, for my daughter who functions best with that.

And here are some more things that have been keeping us busy.

Yes, we have a cherry crop for the first time ever! This is especially amazing because cherries don’t really grow in our area.  Our sun-warmed cherries, despite the usual ‘extra protein’ hazards of organic foods, are a tremendous treat.  The rest of the garden, too, is growing well—except for the peppers and some of the tomatoes—and it is now mostly covered with straw mulch to keep the water in and the weeds down.  In other words, there’s less watering and weeding to do, which makes me very happy.

So, work is slowing down and I am planning to blog regularly again.  It’s been so long!  I have a handful of reviews planned, along with some articles about homeschooling teens, and maybe even a monthly round up of interesting links.

Finally, here are a few books currently on my reading pile.  It’s so exciting to have time to read and review again!  I plan to write about several of these books in the next few months.

Dear friends, it’s good to be back, and I hope to be connecting with you at your online ‘homes’ as well as in the comments.