28 September 2007

Ending Note: The Grand Weaver

Every day, I take a walk. And every single day, the walk begins and ends in the same place: Home. Sometimes, it is natural to begin and end in the same place.

And so it will be with this review.

On my first real day of reviewing The Grand Weaver in my post The Good, I quoted the thesis statement:
[God's] design for your life pulls together every thread of your existence into a magnificent work of art. Every thread matters and has a specific purpose.

I pray that as you read these pages, you will see those threads come together and know that God is indeed the Grand Weaver of your life.

And so one question remains: does the book accomplish its goals?

Yes...and No
To some extent, this is actually a personal question. What I mean is, Zacharias seeks not just to prove that God is the Grand Weaver of lives in general {though I think he does an excellent job at this}, but that God is the Grand Weaver of the reader's life in particular. Because of the very personal aspect of the book's goal, I cannot answer this question with certainty. I am sure, like many books, that some readers were convinced, while others are still floating in a sea of uncertainty, holding tightly to the fact that God is a Grand Weaver indeed, while still being tossed by the waves that make a person doubt that He is weaving very grandly at all in their own life in particular.

For me, I would say that the book doesn't. Allow me to explain.

I know with certainty that God weaves together the events of my life, of the life of my family, for our good and His glory. I know this not because of a book I read, but because I can already see how some of it fits together when I look back. Because I see it looking back, I can trust it moving forward.

The Grand Weaver is full of beautiful stories that are lovely illustrations of God's weaving...in the lives of other people. And they brought real rejoicing to my heart when I read them, for sure.

But the book does not regularly bring the reader to a point of personal reflection. Nor is there a simple statement that bridges the impersonal and personal, giving a sense that since God has done it in the lives of others, one can trust Him to do it for us all. Nor is there a gentle reminder of the Scripture that all things are worked together for the good of God's chosen people.

Overall, a Thumbs Up
Don't get me wrong. This doesn't make the book a bad book. Perhaps, the book did accomplish this for some readers. Or perhaps the book dreamed largely of itself. No matter. It was still a good read.

I hate ending with a twinge of sour, but There It Is. I believe the job of a critic is to give the good along with the bad, and, since The Grand Weaver was strong in the Good and True categories, the front end was heavier on praise. C'est la vie.

Coming Up
As always, I am on to the next thing. First up will be The Case for the Real Jesus. I'm looking forward to all the new research I know will be in it. And then on deck I have something a little different than my usual. Grace, in particular, will be pleased with this one: Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen.

27 September 2007

The Beautiful: The Grand Weaver

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I both agree and disagree. Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines beauty as
An assemblage of graces, or an assemblage of properties in the form of the person or any other object, which pleases the eye. In the person, due proportion or symmetry of parts constitutes the most essential property to which we annex the term beauty. In the face, the regularity and symmetry of the features, the color of the skin, the expression of the eye, are among the principal properties which constitute beauty.
He also says that beauty is
A particular excellence, or a part which surpasses in excellence that with which it is united; as the beauties of an author.
I added some emphasis to explain in what way I believe beauty to be objective. There is a sense in which beauty is proportional to the amount of order evident in the object.

Symmetry an Evidence of Beauty
On June 3, 1996, just days before I graduated high school, I remember reading The Biology of Beauty, that week's cover story of Newsweek. The bottom line was that one's perception of beauty in another human being is more closely based on symmetry than anything else. Did you know Denzel Washington's face is almost completely symmetrical? This is why he isn't considered subjectively beautiful. Symmetry is objective.

But symmetry, to my mind, is evidence of order. And orderliness lends itself to beauty, though, naturally, the two aren't the same thing. This is why a simple bed made is more beautiful than an extravagant bed unmade {for the record, I didn't make my bed today}.

The Beautiful
And so, I will say, now that I have set the above foundation, that The Grand Weaver possesses all the basic aspects of beauty, but is weak on one.

First, in order to get it out of the way, there are no ugly distractions. The font is clear, the graphics are appealing without overwhelming, the table of contents is easy to read. Basic visual appeal is there.

Second, the craft is {mostly} there. Though Zacharias is obviously no Chesterton or Lewis, he weaves a good story in a beautiful way. He was even able to make a sad story of death and loss a beautiful one. Zacharias' greatest asset is, in my opinon, his use of color. He describes the vibrant colors of a wedding sari for an Indian bride in such a way that the reader can't help but visualize the amazing sight.

Beyond the Craft
But there is another form of beauty, a form on which I think all others need to rest. If the orderliness is lacking, the beauty of the craft is essentially breaking away from its anchor. And, unfortunately, I think this happened in a number of the chapters.

Here is a graphic I used to depict the basic points from chapter five {called "Your Spirituality Matters"}:

I will explain this graphic briefly. There were three main sections that followed a logical order. There were stories also, in between mostly, that I won't go into. Stories serve only to illustrate a point. The problem was the lack of a strong logic connecting these sections together in a way that optimally promoted the reader learning what was being taught.

So, what was being taught? Well, the bottom line for each chapter follows a pattern: Your x Matters. In the instance of this chapter, x=spirituality. The last sentence of the chapter says, "Your spirituality matters to God, and it must matter to you as well."

Is the chapter filled with insight? Without a doubt. Did I learn anything? Certainly. But the chapter reads more like a collection of personal reflections on the idea of spirituality than actually moving toward any set conclusion.

Here is a graphic I created to depict my preference for such a chapter:

I didn't rearrange the sections, but rather broke the entire chapter down into questions, asked in a logical order {Trivium method of learning, of course}. If the author chose to rearrange his chapter in such a way that it answered these questions in order, there would be a much more logical flow. After answering all of these questions, then it is time to explain why one's spirituality matters to God, and why it should matter to oneself.

Trivium Isn't Everything
Please don't get me wrong. When one is taking a hike along a river, following a few tributaries to see where they lead may be enjoyable, even breathtaking. However, I am confronting this because of a trend I see in current writers. There is a general lack of care for teaching a subject in an orderly manner that is present in the industry. The teachers in our times seem to believe they can wander where they will without any detriment to their students.

I disagree.

A seasoned guide may lead me through some great nature trails, but, being that I am unfamiliar with the terrain, it is unlikely I would find my way home without the guide. Disorderly teaching breeds dependent students. Unable to find my way home alone, I must cling to my guide at every step.

However, a teacher who takes pains with order might see his students jump ahead of him. Because he appeals to their own innate capacity for logic, they may anticipate where he is going and be able to run down the well-trodden path in advance. This is why it is said that the liberal arts are liberating.

Well-trodden paths are for beginners.

Just like this book.

My advice? Leave the tributaries to the advanced students who have a solid understanding of the subject. They are a delight to follow, but often lead the beginner astray.

Order is a foundation for beauty. It isn't everything, and something can indeed be orderly and ugly at the same time.

However, comma...

There is nothing beautiful about confusion. This is why I believe that books, especially books aimed at novices, should take special pains with their logic.

26 September 2007

The True: The Grand Weaver

What is truth?" Pilate said to Jesus, not waiting for His reply. The question of what truth is isn't as novel as the postmoderns would like to think. Pagans and seekers alike have asked the question long before I was born, and they will continue to ask it long after I have rejoined the dust of the ground.

However, what is novel about today is that, for the first time I am aware of {though perhaps I am simply ignorant}, a massive number of Christians are asking what truth is. Jesus, however, gave us a simple answer to this question while praying for His disciples two thousand years ago: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. {John 17:17, emphasis mine}

So the key truth test for a work is whether or not it {1} agrees with Jesus that God's word is truth, and {2} proceeds to handle God's Word carefully and respectfully.

And Zacharias was, as I expected, true to the Holy Scriptures in his writing. In his chapter on spirituality, Zacharias includes a wonderful discussion of the importance of truth, complete with an explanation of the necessity of context, as well as a warning that false beliefs sneak in when truth is neglected. At one point he says,
How does one find the thread of truth? By looking at the One who claimed to be the Truth--Jesus Christ. In him, "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us..., full of grace and truth" {John 1:14}. Truth, with its handmaiden of grace, was incarnate in Jesus Christ.

I think, however, the most important point he makes on this topic is when he writes:
Truth is the thread that separates true spirituality from false spirituality. Spirituality does not give relevance to life; rather, truth gives relevance to spirituality.

The Truth About Worship
I haven't spent much time considering the idea of worship in recent years, other than to worry that perhaps we weren't "doing it right," whatever that meant. Perhaps it was the haunting feeling that something was missing in the formal worship we attend, coupled with Zacharias' obvious grasp of the situation, that made the worship chapter impact me profoundly. Either way, I will state that, for me, some of the most poignant truths in this book were in regard to the issue of worship.

Zacharias defined worship using the definitions of the two key biblical terms that are translated as worship: "to bow down" and "to serve." "Plainly put," he wrote, "worship means 'reverence and action.'...Worship is ultimately 'seeing life God's way.'"

His discussion on the five parts of liturgy {The Lord's Supper, teaching, prayer, praise, and giving}, though only a small part of The Grand Weaver, are reason alone to read it. Here are a couple of his best thoughts:
When we look at the five components of worship, we notice very quickly why teaching became the backbone of the entire worship liturgy. Without the teaching, the rest of the components become prone to heretical expressions. It is the teaching that guides and guards the integrity of worship. It is the teaching that gives understanding of how to be a worshiping community and calls us to remember how God has led in the past. It is the teaching that makes it possible to prepare the children of the community to understand their faith and to pass it on to the next generation.

After telling of a personal experience at a conference where everything was moved out of the way for the praise band, and subsequently a lectern had to be searched out before the teaching could even being, the bishop's Bible ended up on the floor because there was no place to lay it while breaking the bread, and a Communion steward had to stop distributing the bread because her cell phone was ringing, Zacharias concludes:
Somewhere, somehow, we have been led to believe that music is the centerpiece of worship. It isn't. It is included in "praise," one of five expressions of worship. The clearing of the platform in order to accommodate the musicians and the displacement of everything else in order to facilitate the music set would lead us to believe that because we have sung, we have worshiped. We haven't--not necessarily anyway.

In Conclusion
The Grand Weaver is written with a healthy regard for truth. And, honestly, I wouldn't have expected anything less from Ravi Zacharias.

25 September 2007


Rumor has it that some of you readers tried to use me as your referral for PaperBackSwap, but then you couldn't figure out how to do that. Hopefully, this little graphic at the top will solve the problem. If you have yet to sign up, click on through to their website using the link above.

As an aside, the deal is changing after this month, so get in while the getting is this good! Right now, you can sign up and receive three free credits after you have listed your first nine books. After September, it'll be two credits for 10 books.

By the way, I would highly suggest using some sort of delivery confirmation as I have had at least one package go missing, plus a package headed to me has gone missing as well. So D.C. ends up being good insurance, after all. Live and learn, folks, live and learn.

And, I am sorry to say, my European and Australian readers will have to miss out. In order to sign up, you must have a valid USPS mailing address.

The Good: The Grand Weaver

One of the best places to begin when searching for a work's moral goodness is the thesis statement. It is an unfortunate fact that, in these postmodern times, not all books actually stick to their purported aim, but I still think it is a good place to start.
[God's] design for your life pulls together every thread of your existence into a magnificent work of art. Every thread matters and has a specific purpose.

I pray that as you read these pages, you will see those threads come together and know that God is indeed the Grand Weaver of your life.

And so one sees that the aim of The Grand Weaver is morally good. Encouraging his readers to trust in God's providence, to recognize God as the Author of Life, to these things I can find no objection.

I will, however, say that, sometimes, the metaphor of God as a weaver {and please do not think that Zacharias renamed God in the fashion of Margaret Feinberg--he did not, and faithfully refers to our Lord using His revealed names throughout the book} got in the way. There were a few time where I became confused about strands, strings, and threads, and this muddled my understanding of what Zacharias was trying to say. These incidents were, however, few and far between.

DNA Chapter Lacked Completeness
One of my few criticisms of this work comes in the first chapter concerning DNA. The chapter thesis is generally that one's DNA is beautiful because it was designed by God. God chose who one would be and what one would look like from the very beginning. Zacharias talks a bit about one needing to accept oneself. I particularly liked this:
The day that each person willingly accepts himself or herself for who he or she is and acknowledges the uniqueness of God's framing process marks the beginning of a journey to seeing the handiwork of God in each life. Trying to mirror someone else's accomplishments is one thing. Trying to be someone else in distinctive capacity is unhealthy and breeds insatiable hungers. Not everyone is a Bach or an Einstein. But there is splendor in the ordinary.
What was lacking here was clear direction on how people who struggle with accepting themselves might actually go about doing so.

Most people that I have met who struggle in this area already know that they should accept themselves. And perhaps some would be moved by Zacharias' emotionally charged stories. But I believe some might need to know specific steps they could take to conquer whatever it is that holds them back in this area. At the very least, I wish Zacharias would have suggested a book or Scripture passage to help a reader with this area.

I thought Zacharias' chapter on morality contained a great discussion of morality in light of other religions, and he gave me some new thoughts to chew on. He definitely encouraged genuine moral goodness in his readers, so this gets five stars from me:
Morality is the fruit of your knowledge of God, conscious or otherwise. But it can never be the root of your claim before God. Morality can build pride as well as philanthropy; true spirituality will never submit to pride. Having said all that, morality is still the ground from within which the creative spirit of art and other disciplines may grow. But if they grow to exaggerate who we are, then it is morality for morality's sake. If it sprouts toward heaven, it points others to God.

A Good Book
The Christian landscape has been terribly polluted by books that are nothing more than marketing schemes masquerading as moral goodness or truth, but in the end they are nothing but whitewashed tombs. I believe Zacharias has something different, something true, something good to offer readers, and that is refreshing, indeed. I will leave off for today with one of my favorite quotes from the book:
The Scriptures clearly declare that God has chosen us to be conformed to the image of his Son. The Son has provided the destination we must reach. We will never be like Jesus in essence, but God calls us to be like him in our reflective splendor.

24 September 2007

Review Introduction: The Grand Weaver

Maybe it just caught me at a tender time in life, but this book, with its plethora of emotionally-charged stories, brought me near to tears on more than one occasion.

I said near. It's not like I actually cried.

The Grand Weaver was a touching little book that covered many aspects of a person's life: DNA {who one is physically}, disappointments, calling, morality, spirituality, will, worship, and destiny. Ravi Zacharias did a better job with some of the categories than others, but the variety here is so extensive there is no way I could cover it all in a series of reviews. So I will be giving only the highlights.

As a reminder, or for any readers who are new around here, my official reviews {meaning I received the book free for the purpose of reviewing it here on the blog} follow a Good, True, and Beautiful category format. In regards to this book specifically, I will raise some of the following issues:

  • Good: Is the book good in the moral sense? Does it discuss morally good topics in a way that is itself morally good? Does reading it promote any sort of moral goodness in the reader?

  • True: Is the work true in light of what can be known from Scripture? Are the author's assertions true when compared with Scripture as the ultimate authority? Were all verses and passages quoted in context, or was God's Holy Word twisted to suit the author's needs?

  • Beautiful: I refer to beauty on two levels. The first is physical. Is the graphic design beautiful? Is the manuscript free of glaring typographical errors? The second is in regards to the craft of writing. Are beautiful stories told in a beautiful manner? Some of this is a matter of personal preference, but some is also objective. Some writers practice their craft so skillfully that the beauty of their work is as true as the beauty of a waterfall. Did Zacharias accomplish this sort of beauty? And if not, how close did he come to hitting the mark?

These are the questions I will be asking myself this week as I finish my reading of Ravi Zacharias' The Grand Weaver.

21 September 2007

How to Talk to a Homeschooler

We are not veteran homeschoolers {yet}, but I can already tell that there are people in this world who simply do not understand how to have a conversation with a child that is not educated by some sort of institution. People will ask my son if he has started "Kindergarten." I did my son a favor and called school this year "Kindergarten" so that he could answer "yes" to this question. Of course, there is a total breakdown when people begin to ask who his teacher is.

Hence this post.

This is my completely inadequate attempt at creating a list of pointers for adults who wish to speak to a young homeschooled child.

  • Don't ask who his teacher is. Obviously, if you don't already know he is homeschooled, this might be how you find out! However, if you already know how he is educated, then asking who is teacher is is a very silly question. This is the equivalent of me asking a child who attends an institutional school what his mommy taught him all day. It is a question that lacks an understanding of the child's circumstances.

  • Don't ask him what his favorite subject is. I suppose that some homeschooled families actually separate every little lesson out into a "subject." But children who are home educated learn throughout the day. We do science while taking a long walk. We do history while reading aloud. Sometimes, an entire "subject" might be covered at the dinner table. Parent-teachers plan, yes they do, but they also capitalize on every teachable moment they get their hands on. Our younger students are highly unlikely to know where history ended and literature began.

  • Do ask him what he likes to learn about. This is a better question. Our science this year is ornithology. If you ask our son his favorite subject, he will give you a quizzical look. If you ask him what his favorite part of the school day is, he will say Binder Time. If you ask him what he likes to learn about, he will give the real answer, which is birds.

  • Don't ask him if he saw his friends at school. School, for the home educated, is a lifestyle, not a location. He sees friends at church, at Awana, at the park, and so on. And he might be educated in those locations. And he might be educated and see friends at the same time.

  • Do realize that all relationships count. We have encountered people who think that, since our son doesn't have a huge and thriving peer group, that he doesn't really have friends. Most homeschooling families we have met are like us and think that a variety of strong and nurturing relationships are superior than any sort of playground peer group. So our son has friends that are a variety of different ages. In fact, I can only think of one friend he has that is the exact same age as he is. He is also friends with his sisters. And he is friends with his third cousins {he has lots of those}. And he has wonderful relationships with even his great grandparents. All of these relationships count, and all of them are important.

    To say a child doesn't have friends because he lacks a peer group is to fail to understand the reality of the world. God did not create a peer group. In fact, American schools were ungraded until the second half of the nineteenth century. Age segregation does not teach the child to interact with people who are different from himself.

  • Don't ask him what grade he is in. Some families declare grades, some do not. Like I said before, I told my son he is in kindergarten. But his actual grade level varies greatly by subject. Some homeschooled kids aren't told that they are in a grade.

  • Do ask him how old he is. Usually, when you ask what grade someone is, you are trying to put them into a category. If you really want to know, asking how old the child is and then subtracting five or so will tell you what grade the child would be in were he educated by an institution.

  • Above all else, when you find out the child is homeschooled, do not, under any circumstances, let your face fall into a frown. This is very important. We all know that not everyone approves of homeschooling. There is very little in this world that everyone thinks is great, and homeschooling is no exception. However, if you are speaking to the child, you should consider the child. Even if you believe that the parents are doing the child a huge disservice by educating him themselves, frowning at the child will not help.

20 September 2007

Where We Went and What We Did There

We planned something for every weekday morning we were away. We arrived on a Friday night, and spent our first two days walking aimlessly through Pismo, visiting the pier and sand and little art shops and so on. But the week was supposed to count as school field trips, and we weren't about to miss an opportunity.

We started off by taking a short drive to the Bob Jones Bike Trail in Avila Beach. We started inland, and walked slowly. Our goal wasn't to go quickly, but to see what there was to see. We identified some birds, found a tree filled with Turkey Vultures, and some of us even saw a fox! Beyond the animal life, there were beautiful old trees climbing skyward, and a brook just loud enough to cause A. to continually ask, "What's that sound?"

We had planned to picnic at the start of the trail, but as there were no tables {we started at the inland side}, we headed for Avila's beautiful park by the sea. We ate, became slightly sunburned, and didn't forget to fly the kite before heading to our home-away-from-home for afternoon naptime.

We woke up to some pretty heavy cloud cover, so we rearranged the "schedule" and instead of a day building sandcastles on the beach, we made one of our longer drives and went to Morro Bay State Park. Our first stop was the bathroom Museum of Natural History. This museum is a particularly good spot for teaching children about the tides, estuaries, and even the process of erosion {which, incidentally, is considered by the museum as "bad" if caused by humans, but an "opportunity" if caused by nature--apparently they think humans are unnatural}. The Museum has some amazing views of the estuary and the mud flats {when the tide is out}.

We had lunch quite near the museum, right next to the rookery. We saw the one bird we never expected to see: the wild turkey. Actually, it was a whole bunch of turkeys. While I was feeding Q. her solids, the children played Indian and snuck up on them. It was great! Our field guide says they shouldn't be in this area (they are on a golf course in the photo), but these birds would beg to differ.

At the rookery, we were treated to some very dead trees {due to the birds, ahem, guano...} full of double-crested cormorants. No, I don't have a photo. You will just have to trust me that it was wonderful.

And then the children ran freely through the woods, and that was the most wonderful of all.

We headed back to Avila on Wednesday. Avila became our favorite place, even though the publicity map the MPL got us lies. It said there was a lighthouse. A beautiful, fully restored lighthouse. We were determined to see this lighthouse. We drove in the direction of the arrow and hit a dead end. So we asked some very nice sailors. Apparently, the lighthouse is accessible by a hike that begins at the back of the nuclear power plant. Not exactly accessible. But, if we were still going to be there Saturday, we could see it. It is, after all, only a four hour hike.

Something told us the stroller wasn't going to make it.

However, on our drive back to the main part of town, we were able to stop and add three more birds to the birding binder: the brown pelican, the whimbrel, and the white egret. We were thrilled.

We played at the beautiful park again, and then hiked over to Avila's estuary where we were able to view a large group of fishing pelicans and another group of herons playing keep-away from some turkey vultures. The kids were thrilled.

We didn't leave without touring all the cute little shops. Avila has been totally renovated, and it is beautiful. It is nice to see that it has recovered from the oil spill that almost destroyed it in my childhood.

Joe Momma's is a great place for an organic cup of coffee.

Thursday was finally warm and sunny. We were so excited to hit the beach. We had been putting it off because we wanted a sunny day for the occasion.

We didn't realize it was windy.

This was our biggest failure of a day, though, had the air been still, it would have been perfect.

We stayed in Pismo, and took all our baggage, and the baby sleeping in her carseat, and determined to build sandcastles in spite of the wind. I am thankful for the huge bug-eyed sunglasses Si bought for me. I began the sandcastle. The water wasn't too bad--67 degrees according to the local surf shop white board--so E. and I waded in and filled our buckets with water. We built a traditional castle, and we had the sand in our hair and teeth and ears to show for it.

A. cried about the wind in her daddy's lap, so I switched with him to give him a break. He and E. dug a giant hole until they hit water, and A. continued to cry.

After about an hour of this nonsense, we headed to our home-away-from-home for lunch. Then, we were back out, driving to Part Two of our day, the Oceano Sand Dunes. We had wanted to watch the ATV's, and perhaps even rent one for Si and E. if they weren't too expensive.

The wind was worse.

So we headed home without really leaving the car.

Friday had two parts. The first was Camp San Luis. Even though it was out of the way, the children were thrilled with the collection of military aircraft.

After a small snack, we headed to downtown San Luis Obispo, where we were quickly reminded why we like to stick to nature. After being assaulted by skimpy Halloween costumes in one window, and V*ct*r**'s S*cr*t windows at a corner, we decided that SLO wasn't as family-friendly as we remembered. Before we left, we hit the used bookstore. Since the last time we were there, the,um, questionable sections had been moved to the front. We won't be returning. At least, not with the children.

Friday night, Si and I were able to head back to Avila alone. My parents were in Pismo and they kept the children. Avila has a fish and farm market on Friday nights. Everything about Avila is family-friendly, right down to the children's room in the ice cream shop.

19 September 2007

To Study History in a Person

Up until now, we haven't done very much at all in the area of history. This wasn't born of disinterest in the subject. It was simply that we didn't have many history books appropriate for children, and I knew that we would be visiting many used bookstores on our trip. So I had opted to wait.

Apparently, there aren't many used children's history books in the central coast area. Not that we visited every used bookstore.

Well, we did buy a wonderful copy of Dickens' A Child's History of England {for $4}. But really, there was no Meadowcroft or D'Aulaire like I had hoped. Even worse, Mommy didn't really have a vision for an approach to history that would really reach the heart of the children.

That is, until one day, when the children were exhausted and taking an extra-long nap, and Si and I were sitting on the balcony of our hiatus home-away-from-home listening to the waves and reading. I was finishing up Charlotte Mason's Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine when I discovered that, though I didn't have a vision, Mason certainly had opinions on the teaching of history to the very young:
The fatal mistake is in the notion that he must learn 'outlines,' or a baby edition of the whole history of England, or of Rome, just as he must cover the geography of all the world. Let him, on the contrary, linger pleasantly over the history of a single man, a short period, until he thinks the thoughts of that man, is at home in the ways of that period. Though he is reading and thinking of the lifetime of a single man, he is really getting intimately acquainted with the history of a whole nation for a whole age.

This clicked for me. This is not to say that we will not build our own timeline, and mark the men we study down in their place. It is just that the timeline will give us a record, not be the object of our study.

Since our son already has a deep affection for George Washington, and since he is a perfect object of study for a child to learn of the birth of our country, it was not hard to choose. So, soon to arrive at our doorstep will be, in no particular order:

What better time that kindergarten to "linger pleasantly over the thoughts of one man" and, hopefully, think his same, great thoughts?

18 September 2007

Preparing for a Journey

Besides being the longest trip we have ever taken, this was also the most organized. I think I have become more organized over the years out of necessity. First, I used to have a habit of forgetting important items when packing. This has left me terrified of neglecting something. Moreover, I firmly believe that bored children are much more likely to get in trouble.

The days of arriving at a destination, looking at each other, and saying, "Hey, what do you want to do?" are over. It takes too long to decide, and so the kids, full of adrenaline due to the new scenery, inevitably begin a full-scale mutiny.

But if, first thing in the morning, we parental authorities are able to calmly announce, "We are all going to such-and-such a place this morning. You three will all play with toys from the basket until we have packed everything needed for our time away," we can head off such a disaster.

Here, I will share what worked. {I intend to keep most of what didn't work to myself!} Keep in mind that all of this was organized in the big, black Mommy Binder that daily assists us in organizing our lives.

I prepared a set of three maps for every destination {we planned a different place to visit for every weekday}. Why three? One for the navigator, one for E. to color on as he learned all about maps, and one for A. to imitate E. with. This is especially helpful if a child constantly asks some variation of the "Are we there yet?" question. If he is holding a map and knows how to read it, the answer should be obvious to him.

If I could improve our mapping in one way, it would have been to have a more detailed map for a downtown area we were visiting. This was the one day we planned to eat lunch out. We were on foot, we got turned around, and each shop owner seemed to give us different directions to the place we were trying to find. We soon had some very tired and hungry children on our hands. A map detailing where to park and where to eat would have come in handy.

Clipboards and Art Supplies
Each seat back contained a clipboard, and then we had a small plastic container full of colored pencils, a sharpener, and crayons. This was a way to keep small hands busy, and also offered the means for E. to trace our journey on his maps.

Homemade Spice Packs
To make our trip more economical, and also avoid complications from nasty food allergies, I cooked almost every meal. For some spices, like cinnamon for the children's daily oatmeal, I simply brought a whole container. But for the soups I was making for our dinners, I packed individual sandwich baggies that were exactly what I needed for each recipe. Then, I simply used a permanent marker to label them so I didn't accidently put my chili mix on my cauliflower soup! It saved me prep time to have all the spices already measured out, plus it saved space by not having to bring so many individual spice containers.

For every meal I was going to make, I brought along a copy of the recipe. Copies are important. If I bring the original and accidently lose the Big Black Mommy Binder Full of Everything, this could cause a major bind upon our return home.

A Book for the Road
A family trip wouldn't be complete without a read-aloud along the way. This time, we began The Swiss Family Robinson. After the first chapter, I began to think it might be too advanced for the children to comprehend. But soon, they were begging for the next chapter. Don't let anyone tell you that children have to be able to understand every word of a book to enjoy and follow the story.

The Ever-expanding Book List
I have three book lists. One is a list of books for my personal self-education {mainly titles on education or theology}. The second is a list of children's books we want to add to the library. The other contains books for school or family read-alouds. This last list contains books the children can't read on their own, but are still appropriate for the whole family to be exposed to. I never know when I will run across a used bookstore. If I have a copy of the lists inside the Big Binder {the original is saved as a spreadsheet on our computer}, I can know what to look for.

It is also handy to keep a column in the booklist spreadsheet that contains resale value. If I find two, and I know it can sell for two or three times what I will be paying, I can pick both of them up. Other important details might be a preferred illustrator {can anyone say N.C. Wyeth or Michael Hague?}.

That's All, Folks!
I think that's everything that worked. I will later go into detail about where we actually went each day. But that's mainly because it is fun to reminisce. What do you do to make a trip successful?

17 September 2007

The Hiatus Report

All the posts in the world could not begin to convey how wonderful was our hiatus. It was due to the amazing generosity of family that we were able to take such a journey in the first place, and I think we will be forever in their debt. I do believe we made significant additions to our stockpile of beautiful family memories.

It took a lot of planning and preparing and packing to make this trip successful, and yet it was well worth the effort. I will share a bit of what worked in the planning/preparing department sometime this week.

Today, I just want to gaze upon the above photo of my three babies sitting in the sand at sunset. This was something we did three or four times during the eight days we were gone. By the last time, the children themselves were watching the sky for sundown. And I, for one, wished I could freeze time. Not just because they were so cute when they were sticky and sandy, but because they were so little, and that, my friends, is something that just doesn't last.

06 September 2007

What Happened to REAL Baby Food?

A friend of mine has a daughter who isn't too keen on pureed foods. In fact, I have it on good authority that what she really likes are black beans from Baja Fresh. I don't know what her pediatrician thinks about this, but I, for what it's worth, think this is great. After all, the goal is not to get the baby to eat baby food. And, really, the goal isn't even to nourish the baby because, for the most part, babies this age get the majority of their nutrition from mother's milk or formula.

The goal is to train up the child to eat what the family eats and be nourished at the family table.

I made my own baby food with E., and I'm doing it again with Q. This is mainly a financial decision for us, and apparently, with A., we had too much money because I bought almost all of her food.

Actually, I think I was just really stressed out about who-knows-what.

Anyhow, this past week I had cause to buy a few jars of baby food. I found this to be an almost impossible task. When did baby food start to be junk food? Oh, sure, if a baby is on Level One, then there are single-item jars of the traditional carrots and green beans. But Level Two has less, and Level Three, where we are, is either loaded with meat or literally labeled a dessert.

That's right. Dessert.

Granted, these desserts were mainly made with fruit, but I object! I strongly object! Around here, fruit is a snack, not a main dish.

I distinctly remember buying corn in Level Three. There were also vegetable mixtures loaded with butternut squash, carrots, green beans, various types of potatoes, etc.

So I will stick to making my own. If I ever needed affirmation in this choice, I found it at the grocery store.

Maybe it's just my store. It is true they only carry two brands: Gerber and Beechnut. It doesn't matter because that is where I buy baby food. Or don't buy it, as the case may be.

So I remind myself of the goal: we are training Q. to eat and be nourished around the family table. Baby food desserts to not accomplish this. Baby jars of Macaroni and Cheese {!} do not accomplish this. And, poor thing, her mommy is terrified by unrecognizable meat-in-a-jar.

All of this is to say that I am so glad I used a giftcard we received to buy this:

They make a manual one, too

04 September 2007

The Dragon

I was going to put this in The Darndest Things list, but I decided it deserves its own post. You see, there is a dragon living in our house. Just ask the children, and they will tell you all about it. We're not sure how he got here, or when he will be leaving. We were hoping he would melt when our air conditioner went out, but somehow he managed to survive.

I'm not sure exactly when he arrived, but I do remember the children screaming and running away from something, all the while yelling, "It's gonna get me!" After a day or two of this, I thought I would investigate. It turns out, this particular dragon, rather than living in a cave full of treasure, has chosen our house in general, the big gap between A.'s headboard and the wall in particular, as his new residence.

It was E. who invented discovered this dragon. The children have alternated between calling it wicked names, yelling at it, running from it, and feeding it toys.

More recently, an aligator also moved into position under E.'s bunkbeds, but I digress.

Last night, A. was a bit upset over the idea of sleeping right next to that dragon again. Perhaps, after many days, the dragon breath is getting to her. Si tried to comfort her by telling her the dragon wasn't real. Since this did not help, I, Mom the Great, stepped in to extend feminine sympathy.

"It's gonna git me!" she whispers with wide eyes.

"No. It won't get you," I say.

"Why?" she asks, because she is two.

"Because it doesn't like the taste of girls," I say, patting her hand.

"Why?" she asks again, and I know this could go on indefinitely because she is two.

"I don't know. It just thinks boys taste a lot better."

Silence on her part, so I added, "It'll eat E. instead."

"Okay. G'nite, Mama."

And she was fine.

Si assures me this will cause a fight in the near future.

01 September 2007

Childhood Illnesses Up Close: Tetanus

I took leave of this series for a while because, honestly, a person can only talk about disease for so long. However, I decided that, for my own educational purposes, if nothing else, I really do want to continue on to the end. Since I already covered diphtheria and pertussis, it seems logical to finish up with tetanus as that is the third and final component of the DTaP or DTP injections. There is also a DT shot for people wary of the pertussis injection in any form.

What is tetanus?
As a child, I was always told that tetanus was contracted from stepping on something rusty. Usually, the culprit was a rusty nail. Old people would warn you from walking out back barefoot because you might get tetatnus from all those rusty nails out there.

Imagine my surprise when I first learned that tetanus had nothing to do with rust whatsoever. Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is a bacterial infection. The bacteria in question, Clostridium tetani, is often found in soil. Perhaps this is where the backyard part of the mythology came from. This particular bacteria can infect a wound. I am assuming this takes care of the nail part, considering that stepping on a nail would cause a nasty injury.

Maybe the rust was for effect because a rusty nail seems so much scarier when compared with a shiny, new nail.

Anyhow, poor wound care contributes to tetanus, so making sure wounds are properly cleaned and dressed with an antimicrobrial agent like raw honey is important.

"Injuries that involve dead skin {such as burns, frostbite, gangrene, or crush injuries} are more likely to cause tetanus," says my handy source at KidsHealth. It also says that babies born in unsanitary conditions can experience a tetanus infection of the umbilical stump. This is why cord care is necessary.

The reason for the term lockjaw is that a tetanus infection causes the production of a neurotoxin that in turn causes muscle spasms. The spasms begin in the jaw area and later move to other parts of the body.

Is tetanus treatable?
Tetanus antitoxin can be used to combat the neurotoxin if it hasn't already combined with nerve tissue. Also, there are strong antibacterial agents that can be used to combat the actual infection. However,
In most cases of tetanus, the illness is severe and widespread, and there's a risk of death despite treatment. Death may result from constriction of airways, pneumonia or instability in the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the part of your nervous system that controls your heart muscles, other involuntary muscles and glands.

People who've had tetanus often recover completely. However, some people have lasting effects, such as brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen when muscle spasms in the throat cut off the airway. {Mayo Clinic}

What are the possible side-effects of the vaccine?
I already discussed the DTaP shot in the pertussis post, as well as the DT shot in the diphtheria post. However, there is an isolated tetanus shot if a parent has decided to skip the diphtheria and pertussis components. So here I will list potential problems with the tetanus-only vaccine:
Adverse reactions may be local and include redness, warmth, edema, induration with or without tenderness as well as urticaria, and rash. Malaise, transient fever, pain, hypotension, nausea and arthralgia may develop in some patients after the injection. Arthus-type hypersensitivity reactions, characterized by severe local reactions {generally starting 2 to 8 hours after an injection} may occur, particularly in persons who have received multiple prior boosters. On rare occasions, anaphylaxis has been reported following administration of products containing tetanus toxoid. Upon review, a report by the Institute of Medicine {IOM} concluded the evidence established a causal relationship between tetanus toxoid and anaphylaxis. Deaths have been reported in temporal association with the administration of tetanus toxoid-containing vaccines.
And also:
neurological complications including cochlear lesion, brachial plexus neuropathies, paralysis of the radial nerve, paralysis of the recurrent nerve, accommodation paresis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and EEG disturbances with encephalopathy. The IOM, following review of the reports of neurologic events following vaccination with tetanus toxoid, DT or Td, concluded the evidence favored acceptance of a causal relationship between tetanus toxoid and brachial neuritis and GBS.

Yes, that GBS is Guillain-Barré Syndrome again. It seems to be associate with almost all of the vaccines I have gone over.

Is the trade-off worth it?
Since the tetanus vaccine is an ethical vaccine, then this one is, again, an area for wisdom. Only about 100 people in the US contract tetanus each year. However, I can't find any statistics that indicate how many of these patients were vaccinated. Until I have that number, I can't give a definite opinion. If 50% or more of those who contracted were vaccinated, I would say that the efficacy of the vaccines are questionable and the low rate of tetanus is more likely due to advances in wound care. Without such information, it is hard to know.

Many health officials will say a vaccine is "effective" because they can "see" the antibodies in a person when drawing blood. It is my opinion that this is a poor method for determining effectiveness. A superior methodology is to research the people who actually became ill and find out how many of them were vaccinated, unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated. There are plenty of unvaccinated or partially unvaccinated individuals who do not get tetanus.

I think when making this decision it is important to realize that the parent is allowing a physician to inject a known neurotoxin into a child whose neurological system is far from fully developed. Dr. Mendelsohn once explained that there was a growing concern over "the huge increase in recent decades of auto—immune diseases, e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosus, lymphoma, and leukemia" being linked to vaccinations.

I would suggest that a parent at least calculate the likelihood of their infant getting a dirty, infected puncture wound and then consider delaying the vaccine.