Saturday, July 30, 2011

Notes for a Fine Saturday. . .

I’ll try to do some catching up here today!

I was up early this sunny morning and opened windows to let in cool air before the heat of the day arrived. I turned on some soft music and immediately turned it back off. I knew that today was to be another quiet day. So, I padded barefoot around the house in the silence. The cool wood floor felt nice beneath my feet, and, again, I thanked God for this house with all of its windows and the wood floors.

You know what else I’m thankful for? I feel like the most-loved woman in the world! God has blessed me with a wonderful, extended family and so many friends and caring people. I cannot tell you how many nice letters and surprises I’ve had in recent days, weeks, months and even years, but this past week, I’ve been inundated by goodness. I think it’s God’s way of saying, “Hang in there. I’m looking out for you. I love you.” Do you know how much human love and thoughtfulness makes one feel God’s own love? So, when you feel prompted to send a note to someone, do it. They will appreciate it so very much.

Anyway, I puttered around the house and prayed. Put away some books and papers. Made myself a berry-banana-coconut water smoothie. And planted myself at the table to read my Bible. For awhile I’ve been focused on Hebrews 11 and 12, and this week the chapters became particularly important to me. I added the whole book of I Peter to my reading this morning.

I have an old hymnal from the church where I grew up. The wife of the pastor who led the church from the time I was in second grade (she’s my mom’s best friend) gave me this hymnal to keep. I open it and sing away (or at least “make a joyful noise”):

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart—
Nought be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night—
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light. . .

By mid-morning, I was closing windows, and before long, out came my nifty-thrifty fan, where it was put to work in my kitchen. I brewed some coffee in the press (I should have made the coffee earlier and drunk the cold smoothie when it got warm!), plopped onto the orange chair at the table, and sat at the computer to type out some words to post on my blog (to keep for myself forever and to share with you wonderful, really nice people who read here).

We did go berry picking last week, and I promised to put up some photos, so I’ll do that, but I still don’t have Aaron’s photos opened on my computer because he shoots in “raw” (whatever that is—I shoot in auto and point and click away really fast; not much artistry or technique in my photography!), and my computer can’t open them (yet).  I did grab Aaron’s camera before we left the fields, set it on “auto,” and shot just three or four shots. They look washed out, so, clearly I should have enabled or disabled some setting before snapping the photos. Still, that’s all I have for berry picking for now, so I’ll add them here anyway.

Eight blueberry pickers gathered and climbed into my sister’s van, and we drove up the pretty McKenzie River route to the farm. Once there, we strapped on our blueberry picking harnesses and buckets and began to explore the fields. We discovered that we had arrived just a wee bit early in the season for really good picking (grey, cool weather has made for a late berry season). But there we were at the farm, so we resolved to pick half a bucket of blueberries each before we left. I didn’t mind. It’s so pretty on that berry farm along the river, and we were outside in the sunshine and fresh air! We’ll go back again once or twice this season to pick more berries.

I think I ate as many blueberries as I put in my bucket, and so did my sister, who said, “Well, we’ve certainly gotten more than our quota of antioxidants today!” (Or something like that.) Before we left the farm, there were homemade blueberry popsicles for all, bought at the little funky-cute-hippie farm store.

Today is Saturday, but I’m not going to the farmers’ market because I’ve still got plenty of food in my fridge, and I don’t want to waste anything. Not much that would excite the vast majority of eaters has been coming out of my kitchen, and my eating was pretty light these past few days, anyway, but I did eat. For the past two weeks, my diet has been really clean: lots of “raw” foods, lots of vegetables, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, green lemonade or smoothies. (I rarely eat sugar, dairy, or meat anyway.) I’m also walking every day (or doing my “aerobics” workout at home), and I’ve noticed something: I have an abundance of energy again.

Raw corn-portobello salad.

I’ve always been a high-energy, athletic person, but, lately, I had noticed that, while I could do a vigorous, hilly, long walk (powering up the hills), I was dragging myself a bit to the finish. Unusual. But, suddenly, my legs have a pretty incredible resurgence of energy and strength, and I know it is directly related to my diet because this has happened to me in the past. When I eat what most healthy eaters consume, I’ll gradually begin to feel just a slight bit of weakening and lessening of energy, and maybe even a bit of muscle-achiness, and then when I resume my “clean” diet, the over-the-top energy returns. It takes literally just a few days for this to happen, too, and this motivates me to stick to the way of eating that works best for me, even if I can’t eat what other people are eating.

I think the greens (green smoothies, green lemonade, lots of big salads) make a huge difference. Someone once called her green lemonade her “rocket fuel” and exclaimed over the energy she gained when she started drinking it, and I had to laugh because it seems to affect me that way, too. So, I’m drinking my rocket fuel as often as I can. Oh, and, Mary Beth, if you’re reading this, I said, “Cheers to Mary Beth!” a few times recently when I drank my green lemonade. It’s fun to know you’re drinking it, too.

Which brings me to another thing. In addition to eating lean, clean, and mean, I’m trying to eat as super-frugally as possible. I like to drink a berry smoothie every day, and I also like to have my green lemonade, but instead of always having them separately, I’ll often combine them into a green smoothie made with a banana, a chopped head of romaine, some dark greens, coconut water, the juice of half a lemon, and a small handful of berries (it doesn’t take many berries to provide a good dose of antioxidants, and I read that getting more than you need at once is wasted—it’s best to spread out the goodness). I’ll put all of this into my regular Osterizer blender (I have no Vitamix or Blend-tech), and run it til it’s really smooth. I don’t make this so much for delicious taste as to get what I need, but it actually tastes great to me, so I’m happy.

Oh, and I also read that eating the same dark, leafy greens day after day can eventually undermine certain aspects of your health, like your thyroid function, so it’s best not to overdo the dark greens (like eating three bunches in juice or smoothies), and they should also be rotated so you’re not eating the same thing all the time.

See the typewriter on the entryway table? I need to buy a new ribbon for it (you can get them online) because it’s my guest book! I told my niece that’s what it’s sitting there for, so one day she ripped a piece of paper from a spiral notebook, stuck it into the typewriter, and pounded out a note using that old, faded ribbon. She’s been here three times since, and each time she writes me a note. I love this! Who wouldn’t? Here’s the last note Nicky wrote me: “Susy, I love you—very much so! Come and visit me very soon. –Nicky”. 

Signing the guest book will be a requirement for all who enter my home (or at least strongly, arm-twistingly recommended!). If you stop by, you can just sign your name and date or write a note, add a quote or Bible verse, or say something profound or witty.

And now I’ll close for the day and get to work around here. I’m headed to the garage to do some cleaning and organizing. Aaron and I are going to make a trip or two to drop some things off at Goodwill today. And maybe I can recycle some of these moving boxes and packing paper.

I pray you will have a lovely, blessed day!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back on Track. . .

I'm in Portland visiting my girls. It was a last minute trip made possible when one of my sisters called to say she and her husband were going to Portland this afternoon, and would pick me up on their way through town if I wanted to go with them. We'll be going back home early tomorrow, so it's a quick trip, but--yay--fun! I got to visit with my sister and brother-in-law in the car, and then I played with my sweet granddaughter, Avery, just a bit this evening before she went to bed.

I came online to say thank you for your kind comments and (many) emails, and to remove today's post now that it's the end of the day (just as I had planned to do). I'll be happy to get right back on track where I left off a few days ago.

Have a lovely Friday!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Morning Daybook. . .

(Big bonus points and a hearty congratulations to all who finish reading this entire, long post!)

Above is a picture for thought I am sharing... 

My basket on return from the Saturday farmers’ market. I am deeply thankful for fresh, nutritious food. 

Outside my window... 

Is grey sky, fallen maple leaves on a fading lawn, a dirty white picket fence that will be scrubbed this week, the tiniest hint of breeze.

I am thinking... 

About several things.

First, I read Proverbs 24 yesterday since it was the 24th day of the month, and I ran across the old familiar verses that formed a large part of my vision as a mother at home: 

“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”(Proverbs 24:3,4)

What makes a house a home? What makes a home lovely? Not pretty furniture from the store. Not vintage pieces or meaningful family heirlooms. Not having a decorator’s touch. By wisdom a house is built. By understanding it is established. By knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.

And “a wise woman builds her house.” (Proverbs 14:1) We women are the ones entrusted with the call of bringing a spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge into our homes. We set the tone. We create the atmosphere. And, I don’t know about you, but it is a task too big for me. So it is a call for us to press harder and deeper into the Lord. It is a call to yield to Him as He builds knowledge, understanding, and wisdom into us so that we can naturally build it into our homes.

We pray for God to fill our homes with His love, His peace, His joy, His grace, and He does, but He largely does this through His work of guiding and changing and filling the woman who is called to build her house.

* * *

It was a long, quiet Sunday, so I was thinking about other things, too. I was struck that true, deep gratitude walks hand in hand with compassion. When I am thankful that I have enough or plenty, I am compassionately aware that others don’t. And I am thinking that if this doesn’t generate generosity and acts of mercy and a heart for justice, something is amiss.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did or one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

It’s not enough to think about it, acknowledge it, talk or write about it, or to feel strong pangs of sympathy:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warmand well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

And, so I want my prayer to be the prayer that I read in the More-With-Less Cookbook (the prayer was written by a missionary in Somalia):

Teach us to care, O God
In the Somali-Muslim way
Which does not hoard
Nor store for the future
But shares gladly
Regardless of how little.

* * *

As I looked over my bookshelves yesterday, culling even more books from them, I ran my finger down all of those books about simplicity, and I thought how most of them don’t strike me as currently interesting or pertinent. Maybe my thinking about simplicity has simplified. As I thought about this, I was struck how Jesus simplifies everything that matters to God down to this:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . [and] love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

And, in light of that, I was thinking how, for me, all of those books about simplicity on my shelves have really been distilled to, or replaced by, this:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. . .” (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

* * *

And one more thing! I am focusing on this, contemplating it, praying about it:

Be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (I Peter 4:7) Not be self-controlled so that you will earn Brownie points with God or so that He will hear and answer your prayers. And not be self-controlled so that you will pray. Be self-controlled so that you can pray. For me this is attached to the idea getting rid of what hinders and entangles. What distracts me and holds my focus? Decluttering my life regarding possessions, eating, activity, etc. brings greater clarity to my mind and heart. My prayer life is connected to this.

I am thankful... 

Yes I am! This morning’s gratitude walk through (I literally walk around when I do this): a roof over my head; fresh air blowing through my own very cheerful, quiet house; wood floors; the beautiful, delicious blueberries I ate for breakfast this morning; morning coffee; plants and trees out every window; so many good people who love me; a truly lovely, quiet Sunday afternoon and evening; a church I like; friends in that church; and so many more of God’s blessings.

From the learning rooms. . .(if this applies). . . 

Yes, it applies. Always. Saturday I got interested in what a fire burning in the home (in a woodstove or fireplace!) offers to its inhabitants. This was motivated by something I read in an old journal of mine about standing round the woodstove with the family every morning. It was a natural gathering spot. I think I’ll likely write a post about this, so I won’t say much more, but thinking about this led to some pretty interesting information in my books and online, including a discussion at some Frank Lloyd Wright forum about the fireplace being the center of the home (and what might stand in for it now that it is not so necessary and ubiquitous; some even suggested a TV, which brought some interesting responses).

In the kitchen... 

That’s where I am right now! Drinking coffee from my Mrs. Incredible mug. Listening to birds chirp outside the window.

I’m really tightening up my eating. I’m eliminating snacks for now. I don’t need to lose weight but I mindlessly eat throughout the day, solely by whim and fancy, and, you know. . . “be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

I’m also trying to take good care of my physical health. It’s summer, a great time to eat largely “raw” foods, so that’s what I’m starting to do. My green lemonade is thawing on the counter right now. I ate blueberries for breakfast. I’ll have a fruit smoothie later (made with frozen berries, a fresh banana, and some coconut water—that’s my everyday smoothie). I’ll have a large green salad for lunch (with lots of veggies on it).

And I’ll eat something cooked (because it’s fun to cook!)—but very vegetable-oriented—for dinner, as well as something raw. And I’ll make sure to drink plenty of water. If I have a snack, I want it to be planned, and I want it to be when I’m really hungry and not just prowling for more food to stuff into my mouth.

I need to do this with my eating right now.

I am wearing... 

Brown hiking shorts; a brown, really soft, light-weight t-shirt (one of those super-comfortable ones from JCrew. . . I found it at a re-sale store); a blue polar-fleece jacket (it’s almost too warm to wear right now, so it will come off soon. . . like now!); bare feet; really messy hair.

I am creating... 

Order from chaos. That’s a God-like act, isn’t it?! :-) I really am trying to organize my life well while I have freedom and time to do it. And, let me tell you, this is no small task. If you could see the boxes and boxes of my writings and scribbles and notes and jotted-down thoughts, you would be in awe (not of the quality, but of the quantity). I need to sort through all of this and put it into some kind of sensible order, and since just a peripheral glance in the direction of this stuff stirs up wild overstimulation in my brain, it’s going to be quite an undertaking. But I can do it! And I will.

I am going... 

Blueberry picking with my sister tomorrow! My sister is so good to me. When she does anything she thinks I might be remotely interested in doing, too, she invites me. Last year, I went with her to a wonderful blueberry farm way up along a pretty river drive, and it was the most pleasant day imaginable. The sun shone (but not too hot); the sky was blue with a few cute, puffy white clouds; birds sang their loveliest songs just for us; bees buzzed as they did their work (but never threatened), the bushes were rife with blueberries that practically fell into the bucket of their own benevolent will. I felt like I was in a fairy tale!

I am wondering... 

What I am wondering about. I’m not sure. Probably a lot of things. But my brain seems to be slightly sludgy this morning.

am reading... 

Breaking Bread: The Spiritual Significance of Food by Sarah Covin Juengst, Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table: Readings for Reflections and Action. Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. Palace Walk. Recipes from some of my raw food cookbooks.

I am hoping... 

That the grey will vanish and the sun will shine today. I am thankful that we’ve had some sunshine lately, but I am hopeful that we will have more! Because it is summer, after all! For everything a season, right? And isn’t this the season for sunshine?

I am looking forward to... 

Whatever comes, because this makes life an Adventure: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.”(Jeremiah 29:11-14)

Around the house... 

Windows are open. There is silence (after Alina finished playing softly on the CD this early morning). Lights are off. Flowers in little vases need refreshing.

I am pondering... 

I think I answered this one above in “I am thinking. . .” So, right now I am pondering what is the difference between “I am thinking. . .” and “I am pondering. . .”! (I am also pondering how long this daybook entry is becoming. Even I--a tireless pounder-outer of words on the keyboard--am starting to run out of steam!)

One of my favorite things... 

Is going for walks and hikes. Which I did yesterday evening (and I will again today). I walked on the running trails and hills of the south part of town. I power-walked up a very long, steep hill, and I was thinking how strong I feel right now even though I want to notch up my fitness level a bit more. I love being outdoors. I love the fresh air. If I’m not walking the forested trails, I love to walk past homes in my favorite part of town to see the yards and what’s going on there.

The other day, I was walking along one of these streets, and I was struck by the range of incomes and lifestyles that mix nicely in this neighborhood. I went by one house with a beautiful garden; there was a well-kempt, stylish woman walking through it while talking on her cell phone. She glanced at me and turned away (probably because it was a serious phone call and not rudeness). Somehow the garden itself struck me as cold, too-perfect, unwelcoming, and showy, even though it was clearly designed for entertaining.

Then I saw, down the street a ways, an upholstered couch sitting right by the street in front of a modest, airy-looking house with windows and doors thrown wide open. I could see a young couple sitting on that tree-shaded couch, talking and laughing gently. He was stretched out, legs in front of him, with his head resting on the back of the couch. She was sitting upright, cross-legged, eating from a small carton of ice cream. As I approached they both smiled warmly at me and said hello (and a few other neighborly words). I walked on, still hearing the quiet mumbles of conversation and laughter, and I thought how much I’d rather sit on that couch than on one of the cushioned benches of that perfect, cold garden.

(I guess I just got my second wind for pounding out words on the keyboard!)

A few plans for the rest of the week. . . 

Go blueberry picking. Attend school orientation. Clean the garage out entirely. Get those papers organized. Scrub that should-be-white picket fence!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Notes for a Sunny Saturday Morning. . .

I did rise with the sun this morning, and it was truly lovely—lovelier for the fact that we haven’t seen nearly as much sun this summer as we should have by now. And the gentle waking that comes with growing morning light is always nice.

I walked into the kitchen this sunny early morning, happy that I’d stayed up until 11:00 last night to get the room spic and span. How nice to walk in, brew a French press pot of coffee, and sit down in a perfectly tidy room (which is what I always try to do, but yesterday was an untidy day for a lot of reasons).

I had a rare cup of coffee late yesterday afternoon (and it didn’t even keep me awake last night!). Because when someone sends a special gift in the mail, you just have to have some right then. And it tastes all the more delicious for the thoughtfulness that is behind it.

I have a list of projects and tasks I want to complete this summer, and I’m trying to do one of them every day. The small project I tackled this morning was unstapling all of the girls’ (Melissa and Michelle) “SAM” newsletters (“the newsletter with Stickers And More”!) and placing them in page protectors in a notebook. Now the notebook sits out on the coffee table where anyone who visits can look through it. (I will be writing about this great little newsletter project of the girls' soon.)

It’s Saturday. Which means it’s the day to go to the farmers’ market, so I will soon grab that basket and be off to fill it with fresh-picked fruits and vegetables. I wonder what I’ll find today.

I may or may not—I’m  not sure yet—like having books on that hutch, but two things converged to prompt me to do it. The fact that I didn’t think what I had going on with the hutch before was either useful or beautiful. And the fact that cookbooks do migrate to the kitchen, sometimes en masse. So, if I haven’t yet been able to come up with an arrangement on the hutch that strikes me as visually pleasing, I will at least make it useful. (And, anyway, a cookbook is always visually pleasing if you ask me!)

Which cookbooks have migrated to my kitchen (an ever-revolving collection) recently? These:

 If you click, you can see some of the titles, but--oops--not all of them!

What mesmerizes me most when evening light sifts through the trees and spills shadows onto my bedroom floor is something you can’t see in the photo: The leaves dancing in the breeze.

I'm off to seize this gorgeous day! I hope your Saturday will be lovely, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Raspberry Morning. . .

My sister is my berry-picking buddy. Yesterday, she took me to the raspberry fields, but we didn’t pick. We bought.

Super-nutritious black-capped raspberries and sweet red raspberries. Organic, of course.

I like the sweet and crazy garden path that was lazily corralled by a little white fence, all askew. It is charming for its pretty wildness and lack of perfection.

I bought some eggs, too, because I miss the free-range eggs with the bright-orange yolks I used to buy from my friend, Jill. I bought a carton of Trader Joe’s organic “free-range” eggs recently, and the yolks were so pale I wondered if there was any nutrition in them at all! So, seeing this color made me happy:

Then home to freeze berries for winter. And to make sugared raspberries. I learned about sugared raspberries from the great southern cook, Edna Lewis. Puree however many raspberries you like, and stir in enough organic white sugar so that you are mixing ½ berry puree and ½ sugar. Yes, that seems sugary for a non-sugar-eater like me (it’s less sugary than most traditional jam recipes). But this is a special treat—one I make every berry season. And you should, too.

Stir the berries and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved, then pour into jars. It is runny like syrup, but thickens just slightly in the refrigerator. The berry sauce lasts in the fridge for up to a year! A year. But mine has never come close to lasting that long even though I am miserly with it. I always think I’ll save a jar til Christmas and pull it out to eat with waffles. No matter how long it’s in the refrigerator, the berries maintain their bright, fresh, summery taste.

Everyday French toast (made with those great eggs and Ezekial Sesame sprouted grain bread). Sugared raspberries spooned on top of the maple syrup. A spoonful is enough to make this delicious.

Here’s what the lazy woman who loves good food does with her raspberries:

~Makes those sugared raspberries. They can be used as jam on biscuits or toast. To top waffles or pancakes (by itself or mixed with maple syrup). Drizzled on yogurt or ice cream (I love it on chocolate Coconut Bliss). I’m sure there are an endless number of delicious ways to use this berry sauce.

~Makes easy, no-cook freezer jam using Ball Fruit Jell Freezer Jam Pectin (only 1 ½ c. sugar for 4 c. berries). Freezer jam is raw, and it tastes as good when you thaw it as when you make it fresh. It’s like you’ve just gone to the berry patch in mid-winter!

~Freezes most of them for smoothies or mid-winter jam-making.

~Makes Frozen Raspberry Yogurt substituting raspberries for the strawberries in the wonderful Berry Bible’s recipe for Frozen Strawberry Yogurt. (I make the strawberry kind, too.) This is delicious, but it is a bit seedy when using raspberries (that doesn’t bother me, but if it bothers you, you must at least try it with frozen strawberries because this is really delicious and easy to make). Pulse 16 oz. frozen berries in a food processor a few times. Then run the processor and finely chop the fruit, scraping bowl as necessary. Add ½ c. yogurt and 1/3 c. confectioners’ sugar and process til creamy and smooth. (Add more sugar if you want it sweeter.) Serve immediately. I used to make this for an easy dessert or treat and stick a Keebler’s thin mint cookie in the top.

Morning Coffee with Mrs. Incredible. . .

Hey, Nicky, who has asked me countless times if I’ve unpacked the Mrs. Incredible mug yet--Ta Da! I have been using this mug every morning to remind myself that—as you and your entire family keep telling me—I am Mrs. Incredible. (Haha.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Archaelogical Dig: The First Post I Ever Put Online. . .

[As always, (double) click to see better.]
Along with this post, I wanted to put up a photo of something done by Aimee, and this was the only thing I could find this a.m. Aimee created this everyday nature page in the same year my first-ever post was written (1998)--she did one of them a day for awhile. The photo-quality here is poor, but I don't have time to take a better picture because I'm hurrying to post this--I'm going "raspberrying" with my sister this morning!
* * *
I had barely learned how to use the internet, but I found a Christian unschooling message board and began to quietly read the posts. One day a man asked if there was anyone who had older kids who could maybe post about how unschooling works for them (he actually specified that he wanted "success stories"). Well, none of my kids had finished homeschooling yet, but they were older than the kids of the other moms on that board. I wondered if I should post something.

It took me two days (at least) to get up the nerve to post, and when I did I almost had a panic attack (not really, but I was nervous!). The internet and message boards were completely new and foreign to me then, and I have to say, a little scary. Prior to the internet, people only communicated (on an everyday basis) with those in their real community, in real life, so opening up and telling about us to the (conceivably) entire world felt like stepping on the moon. Scary unknown territory.

When I was unpacking boxes last week and ran across this very first post, it seemed sort of historic. Now, here I am, 13 years later, keeping a public blog of my everyday life! (And I can’t help but consider, once again, with all of the positives the internet has to offer, what has been lost.)

Reading this first post again, I have to say that my opinions about “unschooling” (we never entirely followed the philosophy) were firmer then than they are now. A lot of my opinions were packaged with more certainty. Even back then I never thought that everyone should learn the way we did—not at all!—and, while I’d do it over the same way again (maybe even moreseo!), I am quite convinced that there’s no one right way to educate children.

In the post, I describe 15-year-old Aimee’s days, and now it does not even sound like her! Three years later, at the end of her homeschooling days at home, her life and education had really developed well beyond what I wrote about in the post. And some of what she had planned to do didn’t end up happening at all.

Without further adieu, but with a whole bunch of cringing and reluctance (why did I say I would post this?!) and just a bit of editing, here’s that first post:

Tuesday, January 20, 1998, 1:36:48 EST

(“Blah, blah, blah.” Leaving off a bit of beginning-of-post fluff. . .)

“We all love learning while so many of our homeschooling friends are burned out and frustrated; based on this alone, I consider our homeschool a success.

“We have homeschooled our four children—15-year-old girl, 14 year-old-girl, 12 year-old-boy, 10-year-old girl—for nine years using relaxed/unschooling methods.

“We don’t formally teach writing, but our oldest child placed 2nd in the 1997 National Written and Illustrated contest out of more than 7500 final entries. She competed as a 14-year-old in the age 14-19 category. Contestants write and illustrate a 16-24 page book, and winners are published. She has placed in the top 15 in this contest before, and her sister was a Top 100 Finalist in last year’s competition.

The best measure of success, though, is a child’s love of learning. Since she is oldest, I’ll use my 15-year-old as an example: She decides what she wants to learn and do each day, and is completely self-taught. Her current interest in the Great Depression has led her to read several books, and now she plans to write a story set in that time period, possibly to enter in the writing contest I mentioned. She writes beautiful worship songs (words and piano music) and is often asked to sing them in church. She also loves to play classical music on the piano. She reads missionary stories, one after the other, and studies each country she reads about. She is learning French. She writes to penpals in Sweden and New Zealand. She is finishing Algebra 2 and will probably do Advanced Math—her decision. She loves to flower garden (reads about it—and botany—all the time) and plans to take a Master Gardener course through the state university extension program this spring. She has read books about midwifery and has an opportunity to accompany a local midwife to home births. She loves Jane Austen and the Brontes and has read all of their books and also biographies about the authors. She also reads Dickens, Hawthorne, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and many others. She has studied many other things in-depth and continues to learn about them. Once the door to an interest is opened, it never closes. That’s the beauty of unschooling—there is no final exam. It’s a lifelong endeavor.

I can’t stress enough that if you give your children freedom to play, even while other kids their age are filling in blanks in a workbook, you’ll be amazed later at how much education was really going on. Let them think, wonder, and create as they lie in the grass, play legos, stack blocks, swing, catch grasshoppers, bounce a ball, build forts. . . When we take them from these valuable endeavors and put a workbook in front of them, we begin to strangle something precious. Play will move naturally into study as children mature if we give them plenty of time and freedom. Allow their interests to develop and run their natural course, and you will see incredible results. We water the seeds by providing encouragement, support, and resources. Never rush or push a child. Resist the temptation to control their learning—I speak from experience.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that there is an important relationship between play and learning. What can look like dawdling or time-wasting may not be at all. When my 12-year-old boy used to take FOREVER to wash the dinner dishes, he wasn’t dawdling. He was doing buoyancy and water displacement experiments with the dishes. I saw this and asked myself, “How important is it that he finish those dishes within a certain amount of time?” It wasn’t. He turns almost everything he does into an experiment or an analysis of how something works. He couldn’t just vacuum his room—he had to take apart the vacuum cleaner to see how it worked. He is now reading the college text, Conceptual Physics, just for fun. The transition between play and increasingly serious study is gradual and happens at a different age for each child. My 14-year-old girl was 13 before she really threw herself into anything that appeared academic, and then she did it with a vengeance! My son, on the other hand, has always immersed himself completely in his interests.

Finally, I want to say that the kids are very mature and pursue whatever they do to a high level of excellence. Unschooling produces results far above any we would have gotten from traditional studies. I know because I’ve tried it. Even our very skeptical-of-homeschooling public school teacher friends now admit that this type of learning takes kids far beyond what they would do in public school. They are now seriously considering homeschooling their gifted seventh grader “so that he won’t be held back by public school.” Suddenly people around us are saying how gifted our children are. . . I say they aren’t gifted—they have simply been allowed to learn in a free, relaxed environment according to the nature God has given them. This will always be successful.

(And then I quote Einstein):

“One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect [upon me] that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year. . . It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”

Well, there it is. My first post ever.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Few Things for Wednesday. . .

Two photos taken from the mountain climbing "blog"
(if it can be called that) shared in the sidebar.

First, I decided to share a couple of links with you (from the past two years) on the sidebar. I’m sure some of you noticed the “Gathering Up My Comforts” link I added either yesterday or the day before. That blog was me fiercely determining to focus on the many, many blessings in my life when things were not-particularly-easy. There really is power in counting your blessings. It changes your attitude, it changes your focus, it changes everything. It changes you. When I pointedly thank God, counting my blessings one by one, I recognize and affirm that He is good, that He is loving, and that He is worth all the praise I can muster. And, funny thing, praise begets praise, and the heart bubbles over in song, and troubles suddenly seem trivial. So, read Gathering Up My Comforts, if you wish. It’s the simple story of my blessings and comforts from Fall 2009 to Spring 2010.

Also added to the sidebar today are the pictures of last August’s climb of the South Sister in the Cascade Mountains. (One of the Three Sisters mountains--there is a North Sister and a Middle Sister, too. See top photo.) Everything was beautiful that day—the weather, the company, the mountain scenery, and the climb. I brought down a little red pumice stone from the summit of mountain (because the Cascade Mountains are a volcanic range), and it now sits in a little green dish on my mantle. It’s labeled “South Sister Summit Stone.” I’m not sure that you’re supposed to bring anything off the mountain, though. I told someone later that if everyone brought down a summit stone, the elevation of the mountain would begin to shrink! If you want a good look at God’s amazing creation in this part of the world, go have a look. It’s just a one-page blog.

Something Yummy-Healthy that doesn’t merit its own post. . .

Stir-fried short grain brown rice with kale
(and scallions and garlic and a shoyu and a squirt of lemon).

I saw this in Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook (she cooks great food). She calls it “Green Rice” and says her kids love it. I like kale anyway, but kids liking it is a great recommendation, so I had to try it. I didn’t follow Gwyneth’s recipe exactly, but I didn’t adapt it much, either (except that I used coconut oil, didn’t cook the chopped kale before adding it to the wok, and added a couple squirts of lemon juice). I could not quit eating this, and it was even better when I squirted some “Sarachee Hot Sauce” on top (I found the pictured “Sarachee” sauce at a natural foods store, so the list of ingredients on the label is short and recognizable). This is a great and tasty way to eat lots of super-nutritious dark greens!

Also not meriting its own post, in the “Unpacking the Boxes Awards” category, is a box I have yet to unpack. I’m scared to open it and wonder if I should just dispose of it. Yikes. So, the award for “Scariest Box” is this:

The contents of the box were on a really high shelf just off the laundry room, and we had no idea there were little critters running around up there! (Shudder.) I truly wore gloves and held my breath when I cleaned off that shelf. I couldn't bear to throw away all of those photos of my little children, but, really, I have to say they shouldn't be kept. I could call this the "Hantavirus Box!"

And look how many journals (filled with my daily scribbles) I have unpacked. And this is not all of them! I have spent far, far too many hours reading these journals, but I’ve laughed and cried and remembered. Those journals are full of great memories and give a real picture of a real life lived with joy, and sometimes marked by pain. (Oh, my kids were—and are—funny and sweet!), and mostly, looking back, I can see God’s protective, loving, guiding hand throughout my/our story. He has been faithful and good.

And there also are boxes and boxes of writing that I’ve saved. In a notebook in these boxes, I found the first post I ever put up on the internet—on an unschooling message board—way back in the 1990’s. All of my kids were still at home, learning, and I think Melissa was nine or ten then. I will post that old post here this week.

Have a happy Wednesday!