30 November 2007

Fiction: It Had Me At Hello

Opening lines are everything, aren't they? Every great work has that first sentence, that first thought that is so simple, profound, grand, or whatnot, that many bibliophiles will know the work's identity at the mere quotation of its first sentence:

"Call me Ishmael."

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

And so on.

Generally, my fiction reading is confined to reading that is appropriate for all ages, as it is something I read aloud to the whole family. And, for the most part, I find it to be of sufficient quantity. I am more of a nonfiction person, anyhow, and the stories we read as a family are truly great, so it is not that I am missing much.

But as the weather turned colder, nothing appealed to me more than a big, thick, famous work just for me.

I say "thick" because I decided to read Dickens.

We all have our little secrets when it comes to reading. Once I say I love to read, people will inevitably proceed to refer to an author I just can't seem to get interested in. I think these people leave the conversation thinking I couldn't possibly love reading if I don't love, adore, and have memorized whichever author they had mentioned.

Dickens is one of my little secrets. Along with Jan Karon's Mitford books, his works are some that I've never fallen in love with. I tried Oliver Twist at least twice. I felt horrible about not liking it.

I still do.

Anyhow, I tried a couple other works by Dickens, and each time the result was the same. I just couldn't do it. I wasn't drawn to the book, and force-feeding is never pleasant.

But something inside me said that Christmas is for Dickens, and I thought, perchance, to pick up a copy at PaperBackSwap. Well, they were all out of A Christmas Carol, so I ordered The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a simply bound first-edition facsimile including all the original illustrations by Phiz.

The opening line, because it is Dickens, is also the opening paragraph. The book itself says that Chapter One "introduces all the rest." And so it does. I fell in love with this book because of the first line:
There once lived in a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire, one Mr. Godfrey Nickleby, a worthy gentleman, who taking it into his head rather late in life that he must get married, and not being young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her turn had taken him for the same reason: thus two people who cannot afford to play cards for money, sometimes sit down to a quiet game for love.

29 November 2007

Tics: There and Back Again {Part I}

Note: Many of you do not know that Afterthoughts receives numerous hits every months from search engines, often using "tics" as one of the key words. We have had quite the journey in the last fifteen months, and I feel compelled to share what we have learned. To you parents who are landing here in hopes of finding the "answer," I cannot make any promises. I can, however, tell you our story. This series might wander a bit, but in the end, it is my hope that it helps.

I remember the Fourth of July. It was dark. The fireworks would be starting any time. The children, along with a couple of their friends, were seated in a neat little row on a blanket in front of me. I think they were eating homemade ice cream.

And I remember that my son had been having tics over and over all day. As they sat in their little row, his shoulders were shrugging repeatedly, and this seemed, for the first time, to disturb his friend. Perhaps it is the age, I reasoned. Both the boys are getting older now. E.'s friends are sure to be noticing his strange behaviors. I tried to shake off a feeling of dread, but as I watched E.'s friend grab E.'s shoulders and try to physically hold them still, I sighed.

Would this be his entire life? I wondered.

Eleven months prior had been our first experience with tics. We were thrown into the proverbial deep end. Our son had been over at the house of this same friend. He had played all morning. He even ate lunch there. He came home, but we hardly interacted because it was nap time and he was exhausted, so I put him down soon after his return. He slept a little longer than usual.

When he awoke, he had tics.

When I say that he had them, people don't usually visualize exactly what I mean. He had tics that were so bad he could hardly function. I counted fifteen different behaviors that were repeated so often that he couldn't play, he couldn't eat, and he couldn't hardly complete a sentence. He kicked the back of each leg with the opposite foot so often that he began to trip while walking.

I was, in all honesty, in shock. I literally thought that, since he had gone to sleep "normal," he might just wake up fine in the morning and all of it would be a bad dream.

But he didn't wake up "normal."

We took him to the doctor. I came armed and dangerous. I asked for a complete blood panel, as well as other tests {like copper levels} that aren't considered standard procedure. The doctor wasn't going to give him a single test, but he complied when I requested them.

All the tests came back normal, so the doctor told me to send him to preschool.

Yes, you read that right.

No diagnosis, but apparently tics might be stress-related and schedules help. So, even though we lead a pretty scheduled life, and even though sending a child away from a home of security and love might cause extreme agitation and stress, the prescription for this horror of a problem was preschool...

_____________________
Read More:
You are reading Part I
Read Part II
Read Part III
Read Part IV
Read Part V

28 November 2007

You're Grounded!

Grounding a child is a very popular form of discipline. I have met folks who ground very small children, as young as three or four years of age. Some say they ground children from something specific, such as video games or television, while others ground them in the sense that these children must stay home and remain separate from the community {friends especially} for a specified number of days or weeks.

While many of my readers would probably say that grounding a small child doesn't make much sense, I am guessing that these same readers, like myself, would consider grounding a reasonable response to a disobedient teenager, and maybe even a bit younger than that.

So imagine my surprise when I found that Withhold Not Correction completely disagrees with grounding! Now, my children aren't of grounding age, but I still thought the concepts presented by author Bruce Ray were interesting. And not only were they interesting, it was exactly what we used when I worked for the Dean of Residence Life at Biola University.

Ray explains that, especially when a child is older, parents feel that some offenses require something more than administration of the rod {otherwise known as ahem}. Most parents resort to grounding at this point. While Ray agrees that some offenses do require more than ahem, he objected to grounding for three reasons {emphasis is in the original}:
Grounding fails to qualify as an adequate corrective measure for several reasons.

In the first place, grounding is impossible to enforce.

[snip]

Secondly, the practice of grounding allows a sinful and unnatural tension to remain between the child and his parents for days or even weeks. Mom and Dad have to maintain a cool and negative attitude toward their son or daughter to even think of trying to enforce grounding.

[snip]

Thirdly, the Scriptures provide for that situation where physical correction of itself is deemed to be inadequate.

The scriptural principle is not grounding: it is restitution.


When I was at Biola, there were instances in which the act of a student was so severe that they were removed from the community entirely. This was akin to Paul handing over Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan. Withhold Not Correction reminds us that it was Paul's hope that this extreme measure would teach them "not to blaspheme." Even when a student was expelled, I can testify that there was much prayer that the student would eventually repent and follow Christ whole-heartedly.

But there were other times when restitution was called for. Perhaps the student's silliness or foolishness had literally taken from the community in the form of damage to property. Other times, they had stolen the peace from the community. In both instances, we worked out some form of restitution. Sometimes, we turned these students over to the grounds crew, that they might restore peace and order to the community through planting flowers and emptying trash cans. Other times, they might actually assist the facilities crew in making the repairs to the property they damaged.

We had to be creative, but we always found a way to bring the student back into harmony with the community through the means of hard work and contribution.

Ray suggests a similar approach:
[R]estitution is not only for the thief. It is for any situation where person or property has been harmed or endangered...If your son threw rocks at the girl down the street, or put a BB through Mrs. Jackson's window, or rode his bike through her flowerbed, then he ought to be made to do something especially nice for the person whose property he harmed or endangered (including, of course, the replacement of any property that was destroyed). The function of correction is to rescue the child from his wrongful course and to establish him on the proper path wherein he assumes personal responsibility for his actions. Grounding will not do that; restitution as a part of biblical correction will. Restitution demands an immediate, personal, and proper response, whereas grounding provides only time for thought {perhaps to plot revenge}.


I {obviously} don't have teenagers, or even older children, though I am sure that restitution would occasionally be helpful for a child even as young as five or six, especially when property damage is involved.

Now I have questions for you. What do you think about grounding? Did/do you ground your children? Did your parents ground you? Do you agree with Ray, that restitution is more biblical? Are there any Scriptural supports for grounding? Have you had positive experiences with restitution? Please don't consider comments limited to answering these questions, but if I had you all in my home {with a cup of coffee in hand, of course}, these are the sorts of questions I would ask you.

______________________
More Posts About This Book:
Because I Said So
The Quotes that Should Have Been

27 November 2007

The Quotes that Should Have Been

Cleaning Guy has been absolved. It seems he enlisted the help of his apprentice, Cleaning Guy Junior, and it was CGJ who dared to put away my new book. We would have found it earlier, except CGJ was confused about which bookcase he had been tidying.

I am actually quite relieved that I am not to blame, as I have been known to lose something in plain sight. No matter how many times this happens, it is consistently embarrassing.

Withhold Not Correction is the book in question. Yesterday, I discussed it a bit. Today, I will simply excerpt a few quotes that should have been included then.

Also, so far no one has participated in my handy dandy Scripture chart idea. And perhaps no one will. But if you simply became bored halfway through yesterday's post, I'd invite you to finish reading it and then donate your ideas to the comments section.

On to the quotes!
Our motive for discipline is to bring our children into a subordinate relationship to the authority of the living God and not just to ourselves. If we seek to make our children submit to us alone, we have failed in our biblical responsibility.

God alone has absolute and ultimate authority; any authority that I have as a parent is only delegated to me by Him. I am not a tyrant. I cannot function as a tyrant. I must realize that as a parent I am in a subordinate relationship to God and I only exercise the authority which He has given to me. I cannot establish what is right and what is wrong; I can only declare what God says is right and wrong in my home. I cannot establish what is true and what is false.

This last one, about applying God's Word to self-discipline, was a conversation I could see my son enjoying. He would love learning what the verse means, and how God's commands offer him a measure of protection:
If your children are restless, fussy, and they've got ants in their pants in the middle of the worship service or some place else where you want them to sit quietly, don't just hit them on the side of the leg and say, "Be quiet! Sit still!" Why not open your Bible to Proverbs 25:28 {AV} and apply the authority of God to them where the Lord declares, "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." What is the significance of a city that is broken down and without walls? All the strong cities of biblical days were walled cities, and a city that had lost its walls had lost its defense. Anyone or anything could trample over it. Explain to your children that if they cannot control their own spirits, if they cannot control themselves, they're ripe for anything, or anyone to come along and lead them astray...

______________________
More Posts About This Book:
Because I Said So
You're Grounded!

26 November 2007

Because I Said So

Today, I was supposed to write a post that was complete with excerpts from my new parenting book. However, the book wandered off. Yesterday evening, Cleaning Guy appeared. If you don't have a Cleaning Guy, you really should get one. In our house, Cleaning Guy manifests himself whenever Mommy's clutter piles get too large. He is amazingly easy on the eyes, and can turn Mommy's mountains into molehills in no time flat.

The only problem is that he often throws away stuff I need. Like a vague but important scribble on the left hand corner of a year-old list.

Or a book.

No matter. After pouting the morning away {well, pouting in between doing this thing we call living}, I decided not to be deterred.

My newest edition to the library via PaperBackSwap is Withhold Not Correction. I can't say that this book contains much that is novel. I have read maybe twenty discipline/parenting books so far, so I've read a lot of what there is, I think. And we've pretty much settled the issue of how to discipline and when. At least we've settled it for the ages we're dealing with now.

So why read more?

Good question. A few reasons, I suppose. While I don't read near the number of parenting/disciplining types of books as I did during my first couple years of motherhood, I think I still have a tendency to forget the things that were once so clear to me. As we move on, I don't want to neglect important toddler issues simply because my oldest is no longer a toddler.

More importantly, I think each author, though they might communicate similar messages, says things a bit differently, and emphasizes a different aspect of the process. This helps me process and assimilate the information, and it also helps me troubleshoot potential blind spots. Each author, like each parent, has their own blind spots, so switching authors helps me not adopt the author's weaknesses as my own.

In Withhold Not Correction, there are a couple of issues emphasized that I haven't encountered before. The first is the idea that a parent's authority, like a king's, is given from God. Therefore, parents do not have the right to be tyrannical. Tyranny, just like it is in government, is an abuse of power. I have heard this issue addressed before from the perspective of how tyranny might damage a child, but never from the perspective of God's delegated authority and its potential misuse. This was intriguing to me.

But what I really wanted to talk about, what has taken me so long to get to, was that the author also believes that all parental discipline should have as its goal the love of God. Just as our own submission as Christians stems from our love and adoration of our Lord, so should we see our children transition as they age from obeying out of fear of consequences to obeying out of love and respect. Love and respect, by the way, not for the parent, but for the Lord, who put the parents in authority over the child.

I have heard similar teachings before, but nothing very practical. I think we'd all agree that this is the goal, but the question is how to get them there. Withhold Not Correction suggests Scripture. Now, he does not suggest using Scripture as a method of spiritually manipulating the child. I think this would fall under tyranny, which the author already addressed.

Rather, to translate this into my own words, the author suggests informing discipline with Scripture just as we do all other subjects in the home. For instance, when I teach about something in the natural world, I naturally teach them also about the Creator. So if I am disciplining a child, I should explain to them the Lord's commands, and direct them to love Him through their obedience.

Instead of "because I said so," we say "because God..." This, I think, also helps keeps us from being a tyrant because it requires us to ground the rules in Scripture in the first place.

All of this is to come to the part where I ask for help. I would like to compile a list of Scriptures that can help with problem areas. I want to keep the list somewhere in our home so that I have a quick reference. Are there verses you use with your own children? Were there verses your parents used with you? Are there verses you have heard other people use with their children? Please add them to the comments section. If we build a good enough list, I will rework the comments as a post matching up different issues with applicable verses.

For now, here are some examples {without the book to reference, since it is still AWOL}:
  • Picking Fights:
    Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
    Than a house full of feasting with strife.
    Proverbs 17:1

    The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
    So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.
    Proverbs 17:14

    Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man,
    But any fool will quarrel.
    Proverbs 20:3

  • Lying:
    Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD,
    But those who deal faithfully are His delight.
    Proverbs 12:22

  • Selfishness:
    Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share...
    I Timothy 6:18

    He who is generous will be blessed,
    For he gives some of his food to the poor.
    Proverbs 22:9

    If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink...
    Proverbs 25:21


__________________

More Posts About This Book:
The Quotes that Should Have Been
You're Grounded!

24 November 2007

On the Importance of Reality in Reading Comprehension

I am passionate about literacy. This reaches back into my days as a reading tutor, spending much of my profits buying storybooks so that I could woo the children into loving reading. For quite some time now, I have been mulling over how it is that two people {we'll call them A and B}, for instance, can read the same words. Let's say they both can read them aloud without any mistakes in pronunciation. And yet it is possible that one comprehends what was read, while the other has only a collection of vague and jumbled impressions.

What has plagued me is: what is the primary difference between Person A and Person B? How is it that reading, for someone like Person B, can be acquired as a skill, and yet be so lacking in mental connection that Person B is not much better off than an illiterate?

In other words, what are the things that make true literacy possible?

I really thought I had blogged about this once before, but I searched my archives and came up empty handed. I remember reading once {this is what I thought I had blogged about} that Charlotte Mason had an experience like my example above. A classroom of children read aloud a poem concerning a bee. Since none of them had ever actually seen a bee {they were city children in the strictest sense of the word}, they could read the words without comprehending the meaning.

Recently, as I was reading Poetic Knowledge, I found the author had thoughts in a similar vein:
...that one cannot really read and know the words--the signs of things--without first a knowledge of the things themselves, which we must come to love.
This was something I hadn't considered, the very nature of words as symbols. I am a fan of phonics, but phonics does not foster understanding of anything except the words themselves. As a child learns the rules, they learn how words work, and they can predict with regularity what an unfamiliar word will sound like.

But the word is a symbol It stands for something. Something that exists out in the world, out in reality.

This leads me to two thoughts in regard to the teaching and training of my own children. The first is that I must make it a greater priority for them to have a real, working knowledge of real things. This is already why we try to grow things, make things, do things. This is a good reason not to falter on that path. The more the children grow and make and do--out in the real world using real materials--the more they will comprehend when they read.

The second reaffirmed in me our media-free lifestyle. Television's moving pictures, though I'm not sure I would define them as a symbol per se, is also not reality. Pictures, unless they are altogether contrived, capture a limited perspective on something that exists in the real world. Cartoons, by the way, exaggerate something that is real, which is why only adults truly appreciate them. One must understand the real world to truly comprehend animation.

Pictures are, in my opinion, a tricky subject. A child can mistakenly believe they are learning about reality by watching television, when I would say all evidence is to the contrary. Besides the new research stating that babies watching so-called educational videos actually know fewer words than babies that don't watch them, I would say that the trouble with television is more subtle. Pictures cannot adequately convey size and proportion, texture, smell, or taste. In focusing on one sense {vision} in a limited capacity {the size of a box instead of the size of the actual object}, the child's understanding of the real world is truncated.

This world, after all, is more than what we experience with a single sense. Moreover, God created a world that can be felt through the use of multiple senses at once. It is hard to say that a child watching a nature video, for example, is truly experiencing creation. When I watch my babies begin their adventure in the real world, I always notice that they naturally engage all the senses. The refuse to only use vision, even though we adults encourage this when we nag them not to touch. Babies will look at something, grab it, feel the texture, sniff it, listen to it if it has something to say, and inevitably try to taste it if an adult doesn't intervene.

I don't mean to say that there is no place for pictures, moving or otherwise. We don't use moving pictures at all at this point, but there have been numerous occasions when we have searched online or in a nature magazine for a photo of an animal that appeared in one of our books. However, I think I need to remember that the fact that my children saw a photo does not mean that they actually saw the animal.

I suppose that my hesitancy comes from the idea that too often pictures are replacing real life rather than supplementing it.

So far in my current thinking, I would say that a child's directed experience of the world enhances their ability to comprehend what they read. I use the term directed loosely, because this often takes the form of nothing more complicated than a mother's narrative of what the child sees {i.e., "See this? This is an orange." or "Feel this! This is so cold."}

This seems so simple, and yet the implications are huge, especially when I consider popular educational methods. It is hard to believe that sitting at a desk for many hours each day at very young ages could accomplish the sort of depth of comprehension to which I am referring.

And so I wonder if perhaps the poor reading in this country isn't to be blamed on whole language versus phonics, poor curriculum versus great curriculum. Perhaps the entire methodology, the actual way we do school is at fault.

23 November 2007

Frugal Moment: Building a Library

Some homeschoolers use a library {a lot of churches in our town have libraries, ours even had a homeschooling library full of used curriculum for a time, and there is always the public library}, others try to build a library. Actually, I shouldn't make this so black and white because I am sure a number of families do both.

I like to own my books.

Some books I read over and over to the children because the children want me to. Some of them I read over and over to the children because I want to. Some books I underline. Some I simply want to have as a reference for the future. Some I know I used for the first of many times, with the first of my students. And all of them I keep because I think they will be a blessing to my grandchildren.

That, and I love them.

The hard thing is building a library in a frugal manner. There are inexpensive copies of many of the classics, but I have noticed these aren't always made to last. The covers and binding are cheap and it is hard to maintain any semblance of "good" condition. Cheap copies are also often lacking in quality illustration.

I honestly prefer no illustrations to bad illustrations. The mind can invent beautiful pictures if allowed.

For a time I thought that this desire for good binding and quality paper and overall attractiveness required me to buy new books. This was before my son started reading books faster than we could aquire them. Once a child takes off on their reading, it can be hard for the library to keep up!

So, here is a short list of how I am working to build a library that is full of quality, quantity, and frugality:

  • Book Closeouts: I already wrote about it here, so I'll be brief. These are new copies of books, often overstocked items. This is a great way to pick up gift and anniversary editions for important occasions like Christmas or birthdays.


  • The Baldwin Project: This is also something I've written about, but I'm trying to have a complete compilation here, all in one post. Here we have books that aren't under copyright restrictions. Sometimes I print them off into binders. This helps in emergency school situations, and I don't just mean financial. Sometimes copies of these books are just plain hard to find, and this is a great way to make due for the moment. I hope to replace these printed copies with real books someday, but they are a real part of our library, so I thought I'd mention them.


  • Used Bookstores: I am becoming more bookstore savvy as I grow in my book collecting wisdom. I cannot overemphasize the importance of carrying a list. This will help you recognize a gem when you see it. I have a million lists going: one for me, one for Si, one for the children, one for school. Now that I've settled on Ambleside for the bulk of our liberal arts program here at home, I plan to carry a complete list of books for the program with a notation for what year they will be used.

    Thanks to Si, we already own a gorgeous old copy of Churchill's The Birth of Britain, aquired for only five dollars. This book is the ideal in every way. It is old, richly bound {sewn, not glued}, with golden embossing on the side and front covers. When you imagine a real personal library, with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, it is filled with books just like this. Trust me. We won't need it until Year Seven, but five dollars is a bargain. If I carry the list everywhere we might see a used bookstore, my chances of making a wise investment are increased.


  • Used Books Online: Obviously, I am an Amazon fan. This is because my experience with Half.com has been hit and miss. Amazon often has great deals, with books costing little more than the shipping cost. I am only wary of online used books because I cannot see them before I purchase them. But I have few regrets.

    As always, if you click through to Amazon from Afterthoughts, you pay the same, but you support our educational endeavors at the same time. For those of you who have been showing the love faithfully all these months, we appreciate you!


  • PaperBackSwap: So far, this is where I have gotten the best deals. I think PBS is intended for voracious readers who are constantly switching out their libraries, but I'm using it to my advantage and keeping almost every book I get. An exception might be a couple I got that aren't in the kind of condition I'm looking for as a long-term investment. Once I joined, I sent out an email begging local friends and family to dump their excess books on me if they didn't want to join the club themselves. This has been such a blessing, as I now have piles and piles of books waiting to swap. Each book yields one credit {audio books are two}, and I hoard my credits, waiting for the perfect book to come along.

    How I wish I could share my PBS stack with you! One extra-special moment was when I ordered three "Story of" books from the same woman. I think they were The Story of Crazy Horse, The Story Of Buffalo Bill, and The Story of Geronimo. When I opened the box, this woman, whom I do not know, had sent me six. It had been a hard week, and my eyes welled with tears. This is to say that PBS has been a personal blessing on more than one occasion.

Libraries are a family treasure, in my estimation. This is why we will always have ugly couches upon which to read our beautiful books. I am sure that some of my readers can afford to buy each book new in the exact edition they are looking for. But for those of us who cannot do this, there are other ways to expand the family's literary repertoire.

21 November 2007

Review: The Case for the Real Jesus

I warned you that I wouldn't be using my usual methodology for this review. I just don't think that it fits the genre, and there is no need to overextend the method. I am not as rigid as I often appear. I also prophesy that Thanksgiving is in our near future, and there is a chance that if I began an in-depth critical analysis of a book, I wouldn't finish it until the New Year. This would make December seem very long.

One of the reasons I didn't want to stick to my good/true/beautiful analysis style is because this book is written by a journalist {Lee Strobel}. Even though Cindy says that Richard Weaver blames journalism for the vulgarization of language, I don't dislike journalism. However, because of its aim for the plain facts, the only additional details are those that serve to make the source seem more "real," which usually takes the form of a description of the source's attire, demeanor, or selection of coffee mug.

I consider journalism to be generally lacking in beauty, but I don't begrudge it this fact, and I testify that there is a wealth of information in The Case for the Real Jesus. I would especially suggest reading this if you have friends, family, or aquaintances that have been confused {or even wooed} by the writings of skeptics concerning the Gnostic gospels, higher textual criticism, or "copycat" Pagan religions. I especially benefited from the discussion of Mithraism.

Strobel attempts to discuss six challenges to the reality of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels by consulting with well-known experts in the field. Most of his sources have a whole host of letters after their names and are well respected by both liberal and conservative scholars. For instance, for Challenge #1, he interviews Craig A. Evans, Ph.D., who is, among other things, an author and editor of over fifty books mostly concerning ancient texts.

Weaknesses
I would say that Strobel's weakest source was Michael Licona, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate. Strobel prepares the reader to become aquainted with the foremost scholars in the world, and then suddenly, here is Licona, a former Korean martial artist. Licona appears to be famous due to his association and collaboration with resurrection expert Gary R. Habermas. It was hard for me not to get the impression that Habermas was the real expert, and that Licona, though thoroughly versed in the facts, was still up-and-coming.

This is not to say that Licona did a poor job. I simply had expectations of hearing from the most respected and recognized experts, and I think Licona doesn't qualify as such, at least not yet. But maybe he does and I just wasn't convinced? It is hard to say.

The only other weakness I saw in this work was in the interview with Michael L. Brown, Ph.D. from FIRE School of Ministry. This man has an incredible heart to see the salvation of the Jewish people, and is an authority on Messianic prophecy. However, Brown seemed to muddle the humanity of Jesus a bit. I am do not claim to be sure about what Brown actually believes, but in the interview he seemed to hint that Jesus was fully God, not a man, but rather revealed Himself as a man.

I do not think that I am finding an actual theological flaw in Brown's interview. Rather, I would say that he was emphasizing the deity of Christ, and so Christ's humanity simply got lost a bit.

Strengths
What I loved about this book was that it tackled a lot of the hard questions. For folks wanting to study more, it is heavily footnoted and also contains a suggested reading list at the conclusion of each chapter. This book would serve as a great starting point for those wanting to commence study on some of the confusing issues of our time.

If I had a friend who was truly struggling in one of these areas, I think a great approach would be to read the applicable chapter together and then discuss it. If said friend is still questioning or confused, then I'd encourage pressing on into the suggested reading list. Many skeptics simply enjoy being skeptical and antagonistic, but there are also many seekers that will respond to chasing after truth together.

And perhaps that is the best aspect of this book. Once again, I am reminded that Christians needn't fear truth, that, as Si is always saying, all truth is God's truth.

20 November 2007

Frugal Moment: Ink Refills and More!

I haven't done a Frugal Moment in a long while. I think the last one was on bottle feeding. There isn't much to write about because my basic rule of thumb is not to buy anything. Period. This doesn't seem to work at Christmastime, however.

Anyhow, my Mom graciously spent time with my children last week while I ran errands as fast as my legs could carry me. This was wonderful because it meant I was able to spend extra time with Si that evening.

Cartridge World
My first stop was Cartridge World. This place is a dream-come-true! Printers, you see, are sold to sell ink, which is why a replacement black ink cartridge for our HP Officejet All-in-One we use in the home office costs approximately $25. I won't even tell you what a color cartridge costs. Anyhow, with my handy dandy coupon, my total was a tad over $12, otherwise known as half price.

Vitamin C
We had an awful cold that is just now tapering off. We {except for Super Si} were all sniffling and sneezing and basically miserable for days. I had it on my list to stock up on Vitamin C. Vitamins in general can be difficult in our house because of our son's sensitivity to chemicals.

As an aside, I find it pertinent to mention that though we as a culture think of vitamins as "healthy," these pills are often full of dyes, chemicals, and fillers that can be hard on the liver.

I was on the lookout for a safe Vitamin C at good old Trader Joe's when I spied something I've never noticed before: powdered Vitamin C. Putting powdered vitamins in drinks is another option when considering vitamins for children incapable of swallowing a pill. When I read the label, I was astonished to find that ascorbic acid {aka Vitamin C} was the only ingredient. The bottle even boasted that there were no dyes or fillers necessary for a powder.

I bought a pound of it for around five bucks! Little sixty-serving bottles were going for the same price, but my giant bottle contains over 450 servings! And those are adult servings. It would be even less for a child.

So...lessons learned are that powdered vitamin C is both healthier and safer. As a final note I must mention that, like most vitamins, C is more easily assimilated when allowed to be synergized by the presence of other vitamins. So, take it during or right after a meal to get the most for your money.

Handmade Gifts
I am making most of our gifts this Christmas. This is a extreme cost-cutting measure, and yet I think it will work. I would share what I'm doing, but certain people {Hi, Dad! Hi, Granddad!} read this blog, so watch sometime in January for photos. And, by the way, I have already learned that some homemade gifts cost more than their retail counterparts, so beware. If you are handmaking items to save money, make sure your project is cost-effective!

18 November 2007

The UN: Speaking Lies or Ignorance?

This weekend, Matt Drudge is flashing the headline: UN WARNING OF 'UNRECOGNIZABLE' EARTH. If you read the article, which is another example of politically correct global warming alarmist propoganda, you will find this little jewel:
"We have already committed the world to sea level rise," the panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, said. But if the Greenland ice sheet melts, the scientists said, they could not predict by how many feet the seas will rise, drowning coastal cities.

Dear readers, let us not be ignorant of history. This is what allows us to be sucked into these sorts of assertions, which are founded upon the assumption {lie??} that Greenland has been covered in ice since the beginning of time. In my search to find something I could link to that you could actually read, I found a book by Roger Sands called Forestry in a Global Context. In it, Sands writes:
A more recent example is Greenland which supported a thriving agricultural community about 1000 years ago. Agriculture was abandoned in the 15th century because of falling temperatures and now some cultivation is resuming.

For the UN to say that they "cannot predict" what will happen when the ice sheet melts is to say that they refuse to look back through history and see what the earth looked like when Greenland had no ice sheet! If I were pessimistic, I would say that they know full well that Greenland once was truly green, and they are lying to serve their own purposes, which is to control the peasantry, using the planet as their justification for taking away the natural rights of the people.

Good thing I'm not a pessimist.

16 November 2007

Back in the USSA {Chapter Two}



That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following rights:

Resolved, N.C.D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.


Declaration of Colonial Rights, First Continental Congress, October 14, 1774


...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence:
Abolition of private property.


Karl Marx


The old man smiled at his son as he entered the workshop. He was huddled over a piece of wood, and would probably remain so for many hours. The man was a talented carpenter, but in recent years he was in the habit of keeping his projects a secret. He worked on his creations in private and then presented them as gifts to friends, neighbors, and relatives as he completed them.

"Hi, Dad," Tom greeted him as he approached his father. His face was grim. "You still haven't hired anyone to paint outside, I see."

"Now, I told you I'm not going to hire anyone," said his father, whom everyone in their small town had called Papa Frank for years. "I told you that I'm working on a table for that nice family down the street. When I'm finished, that young man--what is his name? I can't ever remember his name."

"Dad. The painting."

"Well, I told you that young man--Mark!--he'll paint it in exchange for the table. He's been busy. I told him to paint after I'm done with my work. I'll take some time off while the paint is drying."

"The City gave you a deadline, Dad," said Tom, still frowning.

"Oh, the City," said Papa Frank in disgust. "What do they know? They all buy their furniture from one of those big stores. Which really means they buy them from India or China." He spat out the word China. Everyone who knew Frank knew his opinions on the U.S. insisting on trading with a country who forced abortions on its own women. "They know nothing. Besides, I will simply bring Mark along and he will explain that he's going to paint and when he will be done. Problem solved."

"But Dad--"

"Son," Papa Frank cut him off, "it'll be fine."




* * * * *


"We need more tax dollars, plain and simple," said Diana in a shrill voice. Women like her always talk in shrill voices. "There is no way people in this town will donate enough money in time for the 100th anniversary celebration!"

"Well, maybe we will have to rethink some of our plans," said Weston, leaning back in his chair. They were two of seven members of the City Council meeting behind closed doors that night. They all agreed that these secret, closed-door sessions were the best way to get anything accomplished. Otherwise, all those people were always interrupting and trying to give their opinions.

"Rethink?" Diana sounded alarmed, but no one responded because she always sounded this way. "Our plans are perfect. If we can get all the money, this town will be beautiful for the celebration. It will be a sign that we are keeping up the quality of the downtown area. It will give the residents something to be proud of. And the children will love the new park."

With that last statment, Diana glanced over at Rodney, who was always a sucker for anything that could be done "for the children." He didn't have children of his own, and didn't know precisely what they were like, but they were the future, after all, and there were certain things that they deserved in this world.

"Well, of course we will keep the park renovation," said Rodney with a smile. He was showing his love for the children. "But we could simplify the new walkways. We could buy cheaper lighting--not cheap, just cheaper. We could modify."

Weston wanted to redirect this before the entire Council started down the path of frugality. He was a wealthy man, and he wouldn't stand for a cheap-looking town. Not on his watch, anyways. "What I meant was not that we should change our city plans, but that we should change our revenue plans. Maybe we shouldn't see current taxes as our only source of income. Maybe we should think outside the box."

This was Weston's chance to show them what had made him such a successful man: his business savvy. He pulled out a map of the downtown area. There were three red circles drawn on it. He pointed at them, "These three businesses--if I can even call them that--are worth less than the land they sit on. They pay us practically nothing in taxes. One of the buildings in particular is ugly and doesn't even contain much more than a hobby shop for a decrepit old man. I think it's time we brought new ownership and fresh ideas to these properties. Think of what it would add not only to our long-term income, but also to our overall plan for the celebration!"

All seven faces were slowly beginning to smile. They saw the potential. They saw that this would be good for the City's reputation. They saw that it would be good for the City's wallet.




*****


"What's this, Dad?" Tom looked up from his desk as Papa Frank slammed a slip of paper down.

"Eminent domain hearing," he grunted.

"Well, you knew that would be the next step," said Tom gently. He knew that workshop was all his father had left of his independence. It was his refuge, a place to go and work on his projects even though he was too slow to work a real business. It was his contribution to the world, a way of using his gifts for the benefit of the community.

"I just can't believe they're doing this," said Papa Frank.

"Dad, you refused their purchase offer," Tom reminded him.

"That's because I didn't want to sell," he said in an increasingly louder voice. "Doesn't anyone believe in the right to privacy anymore?"

"No, Dad," said Tom, "not really. They believe in their own right not to be offended or inconvenienced by your property, and not much more than that."

"Well that's ridiculous!" Frank was roaring now, but Tom could handle it. "And that little Weston! He's behind this! To think he still uses the dining set I made for him and Marie as their wedding gift. May the good Lord remind him of his evil deeds at every meal!"

"Now, Dad," said Tom. "No need to start cursing people. God will have His revenge."

"Yes. But I am an old man. Will I even live to see it?" Frank looked off sadly into space. "And what will life be for me without a shop?"




*****


"Please tell me why we are here," whined Diana. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and she would rather not be in a meeting.

"Because I think I can save us a lot of money," declared Weston. "I had an epiphany during dinner last night, which is why I called this meeting."

"Well, make it fast, Wes," growled Rodney. "We really do have families, you know." Five other heads nodded in agreement, even though they knew Rodney didn't really have a family.

"Certainly," said Weston with a sly smile. "Re-zoning is what we are looking for."

"I don't understand," Janice interjected. Janice always asked the obvious question, a habit Weston loved to use to his advantage.

"Frank didn't sell," Weston stated flatly.

"We have gone over this already," sighed Janice. It bothered her that Weston was leading the meeting when she was officially the Head until next Tuesday.

"Well, the amount we offered him was quite hefty, but the law states that we must offer the appropriate value. However, I've been doing some research, and there is no law to keep us from changing the zoning from commercial/industrial to just plain commercial. In a court of law, it'll look just fine because it falls in line with our revitalization plan. Frank's building is nothing but a broken down industrial complex. With the zoning change, the value of the property plummets! And we buy it for pennies on the dollar! Besides, no good businessman would do anything more than tear down that awful building and put up something respectable."

Weston liked to think he spoke for all good businessmen whenever he opened his mouth.

"But sir," said Megan. She was the youngest member of the Council, and also the most hesitant about this plan. "Sir, isn't that stealing?"

Weston winced, but only for a moment. "Megs, this is nothing more than good, strategic planning. Think of how the city will benefit by all the money we save after we win the court hearing."




*****


"What do you mean they changed the zoning?!" Papa Frank's whisper was almost a yell. In fact, the judge actually moved to grab his gavel. The City had won their case, and now the Court was trying to determine the value of the property. Frank had reconciled himself to taking the funds and using it to rent a smaller space somewhere else in town. The price due to the new zoning wouldn't even cover a year's rent. And his old heart broke at the thought that it doomed the old building, one that had originally belonged to his father's father and was supposed to be inherited by his son's son.




*****


Murray and Sue were a decent Christian couple from a bigger city twenty miles away. It was their distance, combined with the success of their franchise, that had caused the City to approach them. After all, they were just what the City was looking for, a modern restaurant that would please the people and bankroll the City's Anniversary Celebration.

After they had won the eminent domain hearing, not everything had worked out as Weston had planned. All of the residents who could actually afford to buy and develop Frank's land refused. The place had been treated like a plague. An infusion from outside was becoming their only option.

Murray and Sue felt so blessed to be offered such an inexpensive way to expand their business. It never dawned on them to ask how the City had aquired the land in the first place. All they knew was that this was the chance of a lifetime, a chance to build a second business.

They had two sons, and big dreams for those sons.




*****


Megan had had a change of heart. She knew that approaching the couple buying the building, Murray and Sue, was the only way of easing her conscience. She had tried to speak with Frank, but he only stared at her with unfriendly eyes.

"Greetings," she said to them as she motioned them to be seated. Murray and Sue were easy to speak to, and Megan soon found herself pouring her heart out to them concerning the injustice that she had been a part of, and the old man who was obviously still suffering.

She knocked on the coffee table in front of her. "He made this," she said softly. "I had very little money, but he thought I needed a table. He never asked for payment, just made me promise to enjoy it. We did it because he never paid much in taxes. How did I forget all of his intagible contributions to this place?"

Megan covered her eyes with her hands. For the first time in her life, she felt real shame.

Murray and Sue looked at each other in astonishment. Their purchase of the land was complete. Now what should they do?




*****

TWO ENDINGS
{Option 1}


"What should we do?" Sue asked once they had arrived home. She was a sensitive woman, and her heart broke at the thought of Papa Frank and his lost shop.

"I don't think there is anything we can do," answered Murray softly. "All the papers are signed. The deed is done. We were unfortunate to arrive after. Let us pray for Papa Frank, that he will find new direction in this time."

And so they prayed.




OR:
{Option 2}


Murray had been asked to give a speech at the Anniversary Celebration. Their business was thriving, and the entire City Council considered Murray and Sue a sort of symbol of the town's determination to move on into the future with success. Weston was only vaguely listening to Murray's speech. He was too full of pride at what they had accomplished in two short years. The town looked fantastic. And Weston was now certain of his election.

He was running for mayor, of course.

Suddenly, he froze. His face turned white. His mind was drawn back to full attention, and he couldn't believe his ears.

"We had no idea that the land we bought had been stolen by the City Council," Murray was saying. "We had no idea that we demolished a building that had belonged to an upstanding family for many generations. And for this, we are sorry.

"Because today is not only a celebration of the past, but also an expression of hope for the future, I feel called to question this community. Sue and I, regardless of our business ownership, are pretty much outsiders. But you all have been kind to us.

"However, there is one in your midst who has suffered a great deal. Papa Frank and his family have nourished this town since its birth back in 1909, and yet he was treated worse than a stranger. His land was stolen. Stolen. By your own City Council, the people you all chose to represent you.

"If you truly want your future to be filled with hope, judgement based on tax revenue alone must not be allowed. Without a code of morality, this town will slowly fill with fear. Think about it! Which of you are next? If your business does badly, if you pay fewer taxes because of it, will you be next?

"Today, as you plan for your future, my prayer for you is that you repent. In a representative democracy, the people you elect are supposed to reflect you. So I can only conclude that your community stood by and watched while these evil things were done. I implore you turn from your community's recent misdeeds, and try to build a community worth being a part of. Sue and I promise to help you do just that.

Thank you."

For a moment all was silent, and then, one by one, the older members of the community began to stand, and then clap. Generation after generation joined them.

Weston, however, slunk into the crowd. His campaign, needless to say, was finished.

15 November 2007

Hard Work for Little Hands

I used to believe that childhood should consist primarily of play. Sure, I thought a child should make their own bed, but, on the whole, I thought that Mom did all the work so that the children could do whatever it is that children do. Now, this is not to say that I have swung the pendulum so far that I see my children as slaves {or future slaves if they are little}, but that I am realizing how working together can contribute to the atmosphere of the home and also leave us time to enjoy more learning together.

I write these things so that when my future children are older I can read them again and remember what I did before, decide if it is still worth doing, and basically have a point from which to compare and reflect. It will also help if my daughter one days calls me asking what I did when she and her brother were little. I will tell her to go search the 2007 archives on my 20-year-old blog.

My son was a challenge to my play-centered-childhood perspective, from very early on. He is not necessarily a play sort of person. He is like his mother. He likes to work and read. But he is like his father and likes to work a lot. So, when he was three or four, I began scrambling for things for him to do.

This was when Large Family Logistics' postings on chores and small children really began to help and shape me. I wish Kim was still blogging.

For now, this is the work my children do. I certainly can't say that this is the work all children should do because, as I said, my son thrives on work, and so I give him so much more to do than I ever expected to, especially at this age.

But I find that working together is a character-building experience, and so I don't want to deny my children the opportunity.

Sounds like The Swiss Family Robinson, where they are always telling Ernest they do not want to deny him the pleasure of doing it himself.

Anyhow, this is what my children do for now. As I said, I am preserving this for future reference.

  • Make Bed: This started at four years of age and it was a race to see who would finish first. I look forward to the day when A. makes her own bed, too. Now if I could only convince them to make mine for me...


  • Vacuum: This is team work at its best. I have the house divided up in a posted list by days. The main traffic areas are vacuumed daily, while the other rooms are vacuumed weekly. This chore is usually accomplished while I am feeding the baby in the afternoon. The two-year-old cleans up all the toys that are in the way of the vacuum's path, and the five-year-old does the vacuuming. All of it. Once a week, I grab an attachment and get spiders and baseboards and other yucky things out of his reach.


  • Clean Up: E. and A. work together to keep their toys put away. I still have to tell them to do this. If I forget, it doesn't get done. Also, E. was put in charge of bookcases because he was always emptying them. For two weeks, he slaved every afternoon, putting all the books back. Now, he puts them back before getting the next one out. Problem solved.

    We have a constant pile of shoes in our house, plus shoes scattered pretty much everywhere. This wouldn't bother me except that the baby has decided shoes are a food group. A. now understands whose are whose, so she is in charge of putting all shoes in the correct closet.


  • Dishes: E. recently became coordinated enough to help clear the table without breaking dishes. He also helps put some of the dishes into the dishwasher. He and A. are both trained to put away silverware, though this chore takes A. approximately 65 minutes.


  • Laundry: We are in transition in this area because I think A. needs to work more, which means E. will have to give up a task or two, something he is not naturally inclined to do. If I am washing a dark load, for instance, I will go to each hamper and pull out what is dark. A child will follow me with a basket and put everything into a basket. Obviously, I could do this myself, but it is necessary for training that they learn to do this. E. is now old enough that I tell him I am doing a dark load and he goes to his hamper, pulls out his dark clothes and brings them to the basket.

    A. typically helps me put laundry in the washer by handing me individual items. I check them for stains and put them in. Later, I hand them back to her and she puts them in the dryer. Even later, E. empties the dryer and brings the basket to the living room. Unless they are rags {which E. folds and puts away alone or with A.'s help if she is awake}, I fold and the children help put everything away.


  • Dusting: I am inconsistent in remembering to have the children dust, and often do it myself at night. If I remember, they can easily dust everything they can reach with a microfiber dust cloth. It is amazing how fun this is to a child.


  • Trash: Every afternoon, E. walks a circuit through the house and checks the trashcans. He empties any that are full into the kitchen trash. Then, he bundles up the kitchen trash, takes it to the garage. He is not tall enough to get it into the can, so it waits there until Dad gets home. He finishes this job by making sure that any emptied can has a fresh liner.


  • Yard Work: E. helps his dad with the yard faithfully. He has learned enough that he actually seeded our winter lawn himself this year {yes, we plant winter lawns here}. He weeds, and puts yard waste in the green can, manages our composting, etc.


  • Cooking: A. puts everything I cut up {unless it is raw meat} into whatever pot we are cooking it in. E. is actually learning to cut veggies on his own, though we do need to work on not waving the knife in the air when we are talking excitedly.


I think that is all. My biggest future challenge will be getting E. to give up jobs as the girls are able to grow into them. He likes to have a monopoly on work. Perhaps giving him new jobs will help, though I was informed he never wants to clean a toilet. Ever. We will see about that!

One of the things I am realizing about homeschooling is that there aren't enough hours in the day if Mom has to do all the chores. This model works better when kids leave for seven hours each day. Mom can not only clean, but it will actually stay that way longer than five minutes. Working together has proven true the saying that "many hands make light work," and we are able to read an extra story or take an extra walk or whatnot when we are done.

13 November 2007

Eating Like Peasants

Ihave recently been having a slew of thoughts regarding technology. My first thought was due to reading a post from The Common Room where the author wrote about the duties of women as related to technological invention:
One prime example was the introduction of the cooking stove. Women did not have to do their cooking over a fire anymore, which did make life somewhat easier. On the other hand, the cooking stove with its many compartments and varying temperature capabilities, mostly did away with the one-dish-meal so prevalent beforehand. Now instead of a stew with some sort of side bread, a good meal was expected to have multiple dishes. The standard of housekeeping was raised.


In harmony with this is a broader observation made by my friend, Rahime, who has been reading Technopoly. She wrote:
I have always had a love-hate relationship with technology. I do love it, in general. The problem is this: it seems as if, rather than decreasing my workload, my workload gets heavier with increased technology.

Sometimes, I feel like there should be "more" to our meals than there is. I have met people who have two different types of vegetables in addition to the main dish. I have been a guest in homes where every single food group is served at every single meal. I have observed homes where every meal seemed like a feast. And I have felt the pressure in this area on more than one occasion. The technology is there, and a wife is expected to use it.

My home is not like this. I have confessed this already.

A while ago, I walked through a model home and drooled all over the six-burner stainless steel stove. It gleamed at me, and dared me to prepare a feast. And I remember when Abondante Living debuted, and suddenly the idea of resting on the Sabbath got mixed up with extravagant feasts that, frankly, made me think that peasants weren't fit for the Lord's Day, and perhaps our tables were a disgrace to Him.

And then I began to think what a curse technology is to us. With the lightbulb came a 12-hour workday away from home. With the phone came endless interruptions to life in the home. With the train and plane came the ability to live far from each other without feeling overly guilty. And with the multi-burner oven came the plague and pressure of the perfect side dish.

Now, to all of this, I say humbug!

Yes, we eat nutritious food. My children eat said nutritious food approximately seven times a day, actually.

But we have come to eat like peasants.

For breakfast, we have porridge. My long term goal is to have five different porridges, one for each weekday. Right now, we only have four: teff {maskal}, amaranth, oats, and corn {aka "grits"}. Lunch is typically leftovers from the previous night's dinner. And dinner is a one-pot meal with perhaps one side, like bread, brown rice, or salad.

One pot meals are great. Put them on early and let them simmer all day long, filling the home with their fragrance. There is nothing like cooking food to make a house a home. As long as they contain a good variety of foods, the children should get their vitamins just fine, especially if they also drink some good, old-fashioned, unadulterated milk.

That's it.

No more pressure for me. No more saying that because I can, I should. In fact, I now wonder whether feast days are really significant if we eat a feast every day? Sometimes contrast is everything, especially when dealing with small children.

So are feasts wrong? How about side dishes?

No.

I suppose all I really wanted to say is that sometimes it is okay to eat simply. To eat...like a peasant.

12 November 2007

On the Merits of a Backyard Fence

One of my favorite memories of fellowship consists of a small group we were privileged to be a part of for a time. There were two other couples from our now-defunct Newlyweds Ministry that had expressed interest in studying parenting. Si and I, obviously unqualified to teach such a small group, offered to start a book group {rather than wait many months for the church's parenting class to start back up} where we would read and discuss a Christian parenting book.

I will not share the name of the book as there are few books more controversial than parenting books.

This was a great time of discussing the topic of parenting. And it was also exciting because during the group's duration, each family added a tiny member to their numbers.

When the book was over, all of us secretly hoped the group wouldn't end there. We took a short break, and started back up. This time, our book was Harry Blamires' The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think?. Excellent book, by the way. We highly recommend it.

It was also during this time that Si began quoting Abraham Kuyper, a habit he maintains to this day. One of his favorites is:
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'


I remember that all of us marveled one night together as we realized that a person really could think about any subject Christianly. God's Word reveals His attributes, character, and plan for this world. Creation reveals much of His design, which is often clarified in Scripture. The Bible was opened wide to us in that moment.

And so we spent some time discussing the merits of the fence in our backyard.

This may sound silly, but there is a lot that goes into a fence. I remember, when I was a little girl, my family traveled to a place that did not have fences and I mistook it for a golf course!

Now, our yard has two types of fencing. Along the back, which separates our yard from the intersection of two fairly major streets, there is a concrete block wall that is approximately six feet tall, plus the yard is sloped upwards at the back an additional two feet. On either side, separating us from our neighbors, there are the now-standard natural wooden fences, also six feet tall.

All of this is to say that our yard is completely private.

And so we discussed, first of all, what a fence is for. The back wall would be for sound reduction, for instance. The side fences would be for privacy. All fences would also keep children and pets in while sending a message to strangers to stay out.

From here, the discussion turned to what it means to live in community. We talked about whether perhaps the back wall was completely appropriate, reducing noise and giving the neighborhood a sense of privacy from the traffic, while the side fences were questionable. Did they impede a person from meeting their neighbors? Did they discourage community?

We talked about other, possibly superior, options. Perhaps a cute white picket fence would still contain small children and animals while allowing the neighbors a great sense of community?

We never thought there was one right answer, but we were all certain that God's Word really could inform the architecture of a fence {or lack of a fence altogether}, and that certain fences might better express God's character and design than others.

But we also asked the question of whether a fence was necessary because of the nature of our community. If we lived next door to shadier characters, we might find ourselves more grateful for the fence! And God's Word might have input on that, also, this time in the area of protecting our children from the influence of evil before they are ready to handle all of the realities of this world.

If I could encourage Christians to do anything, it is to realize how big and beautiful God's Word is. It seems that Christian culture has simplified God as saying nothing about anything unless it is directly and obviously related to heaven, hell, or the doctrines of salvation. If God has nothing to say about anything else, the world is essentially void of meaning.

I would say {and Blamires would agree!} that the world is full of meaning, and that everything can be understood Christianly {which should not be taken to mean that every person/church/community will look exactly alike; God created much diversity}. Everything can be submitted to the Lord. And what beauty is there in a world where the people seek Him in all things!

I will end with a book, of course. This time it is a collection of ten essays on Jonathan Edwards named A God Entranced Vision of All Things. Reformation 21's review of the book, written some time ago now, explained that it had a "unifying theme rooted in Edwards’ understanding of the centrality of God in all things."

What a wonderful way of putting it: the centrality of God in all things.



The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6

09 November 2007

Back in the USSA {Chapter One}



My country,' tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;

Samuel F. Smith 1808-1895

LIB'ERTY, n. [L. libertas, from liber, free.]
Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression.
Webster's 1828 Dictionary


It had been little over a week since Milly had first read the article that she thought would change her life. She had been sitting in the pediatrician's office, with little Sean sleeping soundly in his stroller next to her. She was grateful for this as the doctor was behind and the wait would be longer than usual.

Milly hadn't been prepared for a wait. She hadn't brought a book, so she grabbed a nearby magazine. The doctor was a Christian, and the reading material scattered throughout his office reflected this. The article, published in some obscure Christian family magazine of which she had never heard, was discussing the economic activity of the Proverbs 31 woman.

Milly had found herself stretched and challenged by what she had read. She had become so enraptured with the "Stay-at-Home-Mommy" movement that she had failed to realize what a hard-working woman the woman of Proverbs really was. Though Milly knew that there would be times in life when taking care of her children would be literally all she had time for, the present time was not like that. Sean was only four-months-old. Her first child, he slept most of the day and night, leaving Milly yearning for something more to do.

Milly's husband, Derek, worked long, hard hours. They lived modestly, the three of them snugly tucked into a 550-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. And yet they were still having trouble making ends meet. They were fine for regular expenses, but any emergency was always a crisis.

Milly had remained at home, raising Sean, out of conviction. Part of this conviction had been that Derek should provide for the family. And their conviction was so strict that it translated into Derek earning every cent. Imagine her surprise when she realized that this was not the nature of the virtuous woman of Proverbs.

It hadn't taken Milly long to decide what she wanted to do, what she, perhaps, needed to do. She had momentarily despaired, thinking that she had no real talents or skills that could earn any money. But it was then that she realized this made the decision easy. She would do the one thing she knew how to do, the one thing she knew she did well.

Milly would make bread.

Milly had craved bread throughout her entire pregnancy, but she had read all about the dangers of eating too much starch, too much refined flour. So Milly had perfected a bread recipe that was not only tasty, but extremely nutritious. She had put all of her knowledge of sprouting grains and enhancing flavor together to create a loaf that was perfect, especially when topped with a simple tablespoon of salted butter.

Milly had made extra loaves on more than one occasion. Sometimes, Derek gave them as gifts to coworkers who were having a birthday. One person had even offered to buy a loaf from Milly! At the time, she had felt strange about selling her wares, and declined the offer.

Things were different, now. Derek had no raise in sight, and with the Democrat Congress predicted to pass the largest individual income tax increase in history, coupled with the expiration of all of the post-9/11 tax cuts and the alternative minimum tax, Milly was concerned about their future financial stability.

Yes, Milly would make bread. She had spent the past week preparing. She had watched sales and purchased fine ingredients from a co-op. Organic grains, evaporated cane juice, homemade walnut paste, homegrown shredded carrots and zucchini, all of the ingredients were gathered on her tiny, clean kitchen counter.

Sean had fallen asleep only minutes before. Milly knew she must hurry if she was to get all five loaves mixed and in the oven before he would rise again and demand she stop and nurse him. She found herself thanking God for the friends who had gifted her with a large, industrial-quality mixer as a wedding present. She would put it to its full use for the first time today.




* * * * *


The winter had come and gone. Little Sean was getting bigger every day. He was now nine-months old, and constantly begging for a bite of Mommy's special loaves. Milly, however, denied him, knowing his immature digestion wasn't suited to walnut paste and whole grains. He would have to content himself with milk and homemade arrowroot teething biscuits today.

As Sean squealed in his highchair, contentedly smashing his last biscuit to pieces, Milly looked at her accounting with a smile. Milly was now making up to 10 loaves each day (five during Sean's morning nap and five during his afternoon). Derek was able to make deliveries to customers who lived nearby, while Milly took Sean for a daily walk in a heavily-laden stroller to deliver much of the rest. A few customers had become good friends and dropped by to pick their loaves up in person.

Yes, selling an average of 60 loaves each week was having a positive impact on their finances. Plus, Derek was proud to have a wife who was productive, spending her time at home cultivating gifts that benefited their tiny family.

Milly's face fell. She was remembering the letter they had received in the mail the previous day. The local health department wanted to visit with Milly and discuss her private bread-baking enterprise. The letter sounded innocuous, but Milly couldn't dismiss the haunting feeling in her stomach.

Milly picked up the phone and called the official listed on the letter. The conversation that followed was quite similar to the letter. The official wanted to meet with Milly to "make sure" that she hadn't "broken any health laws." The official assured her that this was all standard, and she had nothing to worry about. He even agreed to meet with her on a Saturday so that Derek could be present as well.

Saturday it was. The official would arrive promptly at 9:00AM.




* * * * *


Derek opened the door. "What did you say your name was?" Milly heard him ask.

"Inspector Ricketts," came the reply.

Milly frowned. This was not the name of the official she had spoken to on the phone. She came around the corner. "Hello," she said as she offered her hand. She forced a nervous smile.

Sean was sleeping, and Derek and Milly guided the inspector to an outside table for a chat. A friend of Derek's had suggested they not allow the inspector into their home unless it seemed absolutely necessary.

"So, you own a bakery, do you?" asked the inspector, staring pointedly at Milly.

"Not really," answered Milly lamely. "I simply bake bread for friends and family."

"But they pay you," said Inspector Ricketts. It was not a question, and he didn't leave time for an answer. "May I see your Food Safety Certification?"

Milly gave Derek a sideways glance.

"I'm not sure we know what you mean, Inspector," Derek answered for her.

"Your Food Saftey Certification," repeated the Inspector, ignoring Derek and looking expectantly at Milly. "The proof that you passed an accredited food safety course. You have taken a food safety course, haven't you?"

"Well, no," answered Milly. "I wasn't aware that I needed to take such a course."

"All bakery owners must have passed such a course. You may not sell anymore loaves until you have passed the course. And made all of the necessary adjustments, of course."

"Adjustments?" said Derek and Milly simultaneously.

And so the meeting went on.

And on.

And on.

They eventually allowed the inspector into their home, where he took issue with everything in their kitchen. Her oven was a problem, though she never understood why. The counters were unacceptable. Something about their proximity to the sink, which he didn't seem to like, but didn't have a law he could quote that made it illegal. He even found a flaw in her prized industrial mixer.

"What's in these covered bowls over the oven?" demanded the Inspector. He was becoming increasingly antagonistic.

"Why, sir, they are where I soak the grain," said Milly. She wanted to be gracious and Christlike throughout her interaction with the Inspector.

"Soak the grain?" the look on his face was blank, and angrily so.

"Well, yes," Milly glanced at Derek, who encouraged her to explain. "It is an ancient tradition. If I soak the grains under these conditions, they will sprout, which makes them easier to digest while simultaneously increasing the nutrition content. It's actually quite amazing, when you think about it." Milly's face always became animated when she shared some of the story behind her increasingly popular loaves. "Once they sprout, I toast them in the oven, then grind them into flour."

"Buy sprouted flour," the Inspector told her, almost commanding her.

"What?" asked Milly, horrified.

"There is no way your kitchen is qualified for such an endeavor. Buying sprouted flour should accomplish your ends without complicating all of this with the fact that your grains are being kept at the wrong temperature according to the law."

"The government cares what temperature I keep my grains at?" Milly was astounded. The inspector started flipping through the binder he carried with him.

"Yes," he answered. "I can find it for you. Keeping them above the oven like that, and covered only with a cloth, well...that's just preposterous!"

"But, Sir," replied Milly calmly, "Grains must be sprouted under certain conditions. They will not sprout any other way. They must be kept warm and moist, and be rinsed a number of times throughout the day, and then--"

"That is why I say you must buy sprouted flour!" He had cut her off.

"But flour doesn't stay fresh for long," replied Milly softly, talking almost to herself. She had seated herself on a nearby stool, and was staring at her hands, folded sadly in her lap. "The oils. They go rancid so quickly..." She trailed off.

Despair was setting in.

Inspector Ricketts was not deterred. "Nonsense! If the oils went rancid, I would know. It is my job to know these things. Buy sprouted flour. End of conversation. I will never approve your endeavor otherwise."

"Approve her endeavor?" Derek asked, his voice increasing a bit in volume.

"Yes! Approve! That is why I have been sent here." The inspector grabbed a piece of paper on which he had been scribbling and thrust it into Derek's hand. "Have your wife take an approved food safety course. Then complete all the tasks on this list. Once that is finished, call me and I will re-inspect. If you have done a good job, I might just let you own a bakery."

"But I just want to sell bread," said Milly lamely. The inspector ignored her.

"And for now?" asked Derek.

"For now?" the inspector was almost laughing at them. "For now, you are lucky I let her cook for you."




* * * * *


Derek and Milly had a quiet lunch that day. When it came time for Sean's afternoon nap, Milly told Derek she would sleep also. Usually, she made a batch of bread, but today that wouldn't be necessary.

Derek did not sleep. Instead, he took out a calculater and went over the inspector's list. There were thousands of dollars of renovations Inspector Ricketts wanted done to the kitchen. Derek sighed when he was finished. He glanced over at Milly's neat accounting totals.

It was finished.

The inspector's list required expenditures that were more than five times the amount of Milly's profit over the last five months. And even if they could afford them, which they couldn't, they didn't own the apartment they lived in. What would be the point?

When Milly awoke, Derek wordlessly pushed the papers in her direction. She wept, and Derek held her while clinching his jaw. What could a man do to protect his wife against a world like this?




* * * * *





TWO ENDINGS:
{Option 1}


This, my friends, was the end of Milly's breadbaking enterprise.

From this time forward, she baked only for her own family and the occasional gift. Eventually, Milly aquired an "office" job that she could work part-time from home to subsidize Derek's income, which was necessary to finish paying the fine that Milly had received for illegally operating a bakery that was considered a threat to public health.



{Option 2}


When Milly contacted her customers the next day, they were devastated. After all, many of them had begun feeling healthier by eating Milly's bread. Milly felt terrible telling them that they could no longer legally purchase her wares.

She was on the phone with a sweet older gentleman who didn't want to accept his fate. Suddenly, he declared, "I want to give you something!"

"Excuse me?" asked Milly, not comprehending his purpose.

"What is something that you need? I need your bread. What do you need? I will trade you something that is equal in value," he declared.

"Well," said Milly uncertainly, "I suppose one loaf is worth about twenty rolls of toilet paper. Would you like to give me twenty rolls of toilet paper?"

"What brand?" he said laughingly.

"I thought you'd never ask!" said Milly joyfully.

Milly did enough research to discover that the barter system was not yet illegal. She began trading bread for all sorts of household necessities. Some former customers brought diapers or clothes for Sean. Others brought Milly's favorite shampoo. And yet others brought her things they had made or grown themselves, including some lovely candles that kept the dining room cheerful all winter long. One customer even bought her grain each time she ran out.

"I'm sorry I don't make money any longer," said Milly one night after Sean was in bed.

"Don't you ever apologize for that!" exclaimed Derek. "Milly, you have done even more than make money. You have literally demonetized our family economy! We seem to need less and less money every month. And look at what an interdependent community you have inadvertantly built for us!" He paused for a moment. "Why, Millicent, it seems that what the government meant for evil, God has used for good!"

08 November 2007

A Prayer


Let my cry come before You, O LORD;
Give me understanding according to Your word.
Let my supplication come before You;
Deliver me according to Your word.
Let my lips utter praise,
For You teach me Your statutes.
Let my tongue sing of Your word,
For all Your commandments are righteousness.
Let Your hand be ready to help me,
For I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for Your salvation, O LORD,
And Your law is my delight.
Let my soul live that it may praise You,
And let Your ordinances help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant,
For I do not forget Your commandments.


Psalm 119:169-176