31 March 2008

Our Almost Social Life

Our children were sick again last week, and also throughout the weekend. We made the mistake of interacting with other people last weekend and we are still paying the price.

When I think of sending my kids to Sunday School, I just shudder. Will they be sick continuously? Seriously, we spent a whole winter like this when A. was an infant. We went to Sunday School. As I put my daughter into the nursery so that we could go to our own Sunday School class {we all went to main service together later on}, I would notice moms handing over babies with snot running down their faces.

"It's only teething," they assured the dubious {yet powerless} nursery worker.

Did you know teething is contagious? Well, the kind that snotty-nosed children have in the nursery is definitely contagious. And so I spent an entire winter with one week at church, and then one or two off, nursing my sick kids while Si went to church alone. This lasted for five months. By the time I returned, all our friends had moved to another church and life has never been the same.

But I digress.

I just had to laugh at this conversation Si had on the phone yesterday afternoon with one of our favorite friends:
Si: Hello?

Friend: Hi! Do you all want to come over to our house for hamburgers and hot dogs tonight?

Si: Let me double-check with Brandy that we don't have plans. Hold on. {To me} Brandy! Wanna go to Friend's house for dinner tonight? Do we have plans already?

Me: {Forgetting kids are sick little carrier monkeys} Yes! Please! That would be wonderful!

Si: That would be great--

Friend: Hold on. I just remembered that D. wanted to go to some prayer thing at 5:30. I had forgotten.

Si: Are you cancelling on us?

Me: {Remembering the sick kids} Si! Wait! The kids are sick. I totally forgot.

Si: Wait, Friend. Our kids are sick. We're going to have to cancel on you before you cancel on us.

This seems to be our life at times. Our almost-social experiences that just don't happen.

Bummer. Hot dogs sounded real good, too.

And so did a bit of friendly conversation.

28 March 2008

Diagnostic Medicine

Last week, I discovered a nasty rash on A.'s leg. The next day, it had faded so I figured it was nothing, perhaps a bug bite or something. Two days later, it was back, and though it covered much of both of her legs, it was obviously concentrated in one spot, about the size of a half-dollar, that was beginning to look suspiciously like eczema.

I have met a number of moms that would race the child to the doctor at this point. And really, there isn't anything wrong with that, unless we consider gas prices. But I approach "sickness" the way I approach homeschooling: diagnosis and treatment are first and foremost my responsibility, and the doctor is one of many tools who may help me help my child.

So, I put on my Diagnostic Medicine Hat, otherwise known as my Detective Hat.

With my children's history of food allergies, I knew that there was a good chance this was a sign of another allergy. However, I couldn't help but notice that the rash had appeared around the time she had started wearing shorts outside.

This was a clue!

But what did it mean? Was she developing an allergy to grass? Was it a heat rash from a week of high temperatures to which she was not accustomed? I knew the shorts were the key to the mystery, but I decided to watch, wait, and file that little clue away in my memory until I could put it together with other clues.

In the meantime, we started covering the eczema-like spot with organic coconut oil, which helped immensely. I tried to keep myself from getting too hopeful. Just because the oil helped in the healing didn't mean I could ignore the cause. We weren't going to spend all summer oiling the three-year-old!

I think it was Sunday night that it hit me. I was giving her a bath and I noticed that the rash was back, but this time it was coupled with a distinct line around her calf.

Her boots!

A. has an adorable pair of pink boots that she wears when she plays outside. All winter long, however, these boots haven't touched her skin due to the barrier of socks, jeans and other clothing. When we brought out the shorts and ditched the socks, the boots began to cause the skin problems we were seeing.

Was it an allergy? Was it some sort of contamination?

I didn't care, truth be told. I knew the culprit {the boots} and I knew the antidote {no boots touching skin}. That was enough for me. I didn't need to know it all, I only needed to know enough.

So our "prescription" for A.'s full recovery from this particular skin rash is to either go barefoot, or dress in such a way that the boots do not touch her skin.

Would a doctor have been able to do this? Not really. This isn't to say that the doctor is incompetent. It is just to say that the doctor would have had a very hard time discovering the root cause, especially in this situation. The doctor would have given us creams to treat the problem, but they wouldn't have been a real, true solution, and a lot of prescription creams have side-effects of their own.

The important lesson in this is similar to what I once said about preschool. A preschool teacher may specialize in teaching 3- and 4-year-olds, but I specialize in teaching my 3- and 4-year-olds. Likewise, my doctor might specialize in diagnosing medical problems for children, but I specialize in diagnosing medical problems for my children.

This isn't because I'm cut out to be a doctor. It's just because God gives parents a certain instinct when it comes to their own child, an instinct which should never be ignored.

Some doctors, however, are able to have an accurate diagnosis of a mystery illness based upon their repeated exposure to the patient. As they come to know the patient, their own instincts in regard to that particular patient improve. For instance:
Dr. Clifton came. He listened to my heart and asked me lots of questions. "Insomnia? Irregular sleep? Nightmares?"

I nodded three times.

"I thought so."

He took a thermometer and instructed me to place it under my tongue, then rose and strode to the window. With his back to me, he asked, "And what do you read?"

With the thermometer in my mouth I could not reply.

"Wuthering Heights--you've read that?"

"Mm-hmm."

"And Jane Eyre?"

"Mm."

"Sense and Sensibility?"

"Hm-m."

He turned and looked gravely at me. "And I suppose you've read these books more than once?"

I nodded and he frowned.

"Read and reread? Many times?"

Once more I nodded, and his frown deepened.

"Since childhood?"

I was baffled by his questions, but compelled by the gravity of his gaze, nodded once again.

Beneath his dark brow his eyes narrowed to slits. I could quite see how he might frighten his patients into getting well, just to be rid of him.

And then he leaned close to me to read the thermometer.

[snip]

He removed the thermometer from my mouth, folded his arms and delivered his diagnosis. "You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits. While on one level the crisis can be ascribed to wandering about in freezing rain without the benefit of adequate waterproofing, the deeper cause is more likely to be found in some emotional trauma. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You'll survive."

[snip]

"Treatment is not complicated: eat, rest and take this..."--he made quick notes on a pad, tore out a page and placed it on my bedside table...

[snip]

From the door he saluted me and was gone.

I reached for the prescription. In a vigorous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course. {The Thirteenth Tale}

27 March 2008

Dewey, Real Education, and the Child with a Soul

Yesterday, I spent a little more time reading about education, the Amish, and technology. It was like a vacation, spending the day at my parents'. It didn't matter that there were chores in need of doing at home. Because I wasn't at home. And so I read in the sun while the children ran, screaming, along the path behind the trees.

It was just windy enough to make them a bit wild.

I am currently reading a wonderful chapter in Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education by James Taylor called Descartes and the Cartesian Legacy. Have I mentioned I love this book? Because I do. It is packed with wonderful, great ideas, and reading it is like eating a super-rich dessert. I take a bite at a time, savoring and examining. I am in no rush to finish, and I take the time to enjoy and let it assimilate into my being.

Part of this chapter deals with Dewey as an heir of the Cartesian Legacy. I have heard many criticize Dewey and what he "did" to education, but I never understood the situation. I believe I am now beginning to understand the mystery of that educational transformation a bit:
With the influences of Kant, as well as with Descartes, all learning now becomes a kind of effort and work which Dewey models after a dynamic idea of democracy of social change, where learning has as its end the fulfillment of a progressive society always changing toward some perfected goals. Everything is measured by the changing needs of a social end, rather than knowing and learning beginning as a natural and effortless good in itself and leading to the fulfillment of the innate desire to know and to love. Instead, Dewey states in his creed: "I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself." {p 98}

This, by the way, completely explains to me why "socialization" has become the battering ram the educational institutions prefer to use against homeschooling. The educational institutions do not define education in terms of knowledge, understanding, or wisdom. Of course, some individual teachers might, but I'm talking about the institution as a whole, which is fully devoted to Dewey's philosophy. Because education, to them, is gained through encountering social situations, homeschoolers are viewed as completely uneducated.

Our family, I am learning, is quite Medieval in its view of the child and his education. We see him as a soul, to be fed and watered. The end purpose of this soul is to, first and foremost, glorify and enjoy God. The secondary purposes of this soul are to live life as God designed, to form his own family and train the resulting new souls by feeding and watering them. And so it goes. The endless cycle of bringing forth godly seed.
The learner, with Dewey, is more of an organism, a Darwinian species, to be adapted to the needs of the community. Since Dewey reassigns first principles and absolutes regarding human nature to no more than discovered instruments of mental activity to be used to understand and control the environment, there is no set definition of what the needs of the community are, beyond the utilitarian ends of an experimental democracy, whatever that might be...In short, the entire spiritual nature of the knower...Dewey reduces to a communal learner who will master "skills" and apply "tools of learning" to form a better democracy. {p 99}
And then Taylor quotes John Senior in a way that made time stand still for me for a moment:
John Dewey taught that schools are instruments of social change rather than of education, and that is one reason why Johnny neither reads nor writes nor dreams or thinks; but real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things.
Real schools are places of un-change, of the permanent things. To think that such a concept should be revolutionary! And yet it is.

Taylor goes on to explain:
[A] school as was understood since the time of Plato, conversed about those things that do not change because permanence had been discovered as standing underneath all appearances of change and thus was a greater reality than change. {p 99}
Our society now desires Dewey's ideas implemented on every level. We have an entire political party completely and utterly devoted to change. {I am not sure what the other party is devoted to.} However, as people of the Book, we should be people of un-change, people of the permanent things. While the world is clamoring after this and that new idea that they hope will save them or at the very least make their lives more tolerable, we can be the island of peace and stability. We know the unchanging God. We know His unchanging Word. We know where true salvation comes from. We have knowledge of the unchanging virtues. We, simply, have the answers.

And so, yet another reason to keep a child out of institutional schools: I do not want my child to be trained to be nothing but a cog in the consumer-driven wheel. There is nothing noble in this sort of training, nor is there any comfort. As I recognize what my child is {viz., a soul given to me for training by his Creator} I realize the great responsibility I have to make sure his education recognizes, and does not attempt to mar or destroy, this true identity.

26 March 2008

An Open Letter to the Power Company

Dear Power Company,

{Yes, MPL, this means you.} First of all, I would like to thank you for replacing the transformer in our neighborhood. After all, it is a real bummer when it breaks in the heat of summer and the temperature in the house skyrockets to 120 degrees within minutes. Since I will be pregnant this summer {in my final trimester, no less!}, I appreciate this even more than usual.

However, comma...

You sent me a letter saying that you would be turning out the power in our home. At 9am. I took your warning and prepared accordingly. We were all up on time, all dressed on time, and all packing our bag on time. There is nothing like a lack of electricity to give us a good excuse to go to Grandmama's for the day.

Everyone was excited. I, for one, was excited at how on time we were.

So imagine my dismay when the power went out 35 minutes in advance.

Now, for most people, this is not a big deal. But I keep my Suburban, which I must, by my lone pregnant self, fill with numerous children before leaving, in the garage that has the electric door opener.

The second the power went out, I groaned inside. After all, I had been in a race to beat the clock, and you cheated. I knew how bad it could get, how utterly dependent on technology we were when it came to getting out of the garage without a muscle man to assist us.

It was E. who opened the door leading to the garage, and his sisters instantly screamed because it was dark. Pretty soon, the whole crowd was murmuring about the monsters they were convinced lived in the garage.

I commanded them to hold the door open, hoping enough natural light would filter in that I could find the maunal pull. I couldn't. I asked for a flashlight, only to learn that the children recently broke all of them and didn't find it necessary to mention this fact. In the meantime, Q. had, without my knowledge, tried to follow me into said garage and then, finding herself in utter darkness, she began to howl and cry.

It was great.

In frustration, I called my husband. I wanted sympathy, empathy, whatever he could offer. I only slightly wanted a solution because I was toying with the idea of playing victim all day long. His reply? "Why don't you open the door of the Suburban and see if that sheds enough light to help you find the pull?"

Oh. As his grandma would say, dummy me.

Sure enough, his idea worked like a charm and pretty soon we were all fighting about who was going to buckle whose carseat. It was great. I jumped into the car, backed it out into the drive, and pressed my handy little garage opener button.

Nothing happened.

I had forgotten that I would need to manually close the door also.

So I got out of the car and locked the children in, hoping that there were no spies waiting to arrest me for breaking child endangerment laws. I ran into the garage, only to find there was no way to close it with my level of strength and height except to close myself inside.

And so I did. I groped my way through the darkness, trying to find the door into the house. I ran into an ice chest. I ran into a stroller. I ran into a suitcase. I found the door. I ran through the house. I fumbled with the keys. I unlocked the door. I locked the door. I jumped back in the car.

And, Power Company, I am thinking this is all your fault. After all, I knew it was easier to leave before you turned the power off. It doesn't bother me in the least that you needed to turn it off.

What bothers me is that you lied.

Next time, tell me the truth. If you are going to turn it off at 8:30, don't say 9! If you are going to turn it off at 7, that's okay, too. Just give me fair warning.

At the very least, it will give me the chance to back the Suburban out of the garage.

Sincerely,
Brandy Vencel

25 March 2008

GFCF Pound Cake

This weekend, I tried out a new cake recipe that got two thumbs up from the Taste Testers. The tapioca cake I have been making has been fine. But that is all. Just fine.

I can't imagine making a just fine cake for the next eighteen-plus years.

So I have been on the look-out for a good recipe, and I found one by an amazing chef that is on a gluten-free diet {celiac disease, maybe?}. However, she is not dairy-free, soy-free, or anything else, so I find I need to modify any recipe I try from her blog, and some of them I just skip because it is so different that I figure it won't even begin to resemble what she was trying to do!

If you want to look at the original recipe, it is here. If you want to look around her blog, just a slight word of warning. She posts a lot of art work with her recipes, and for the most part they are simply beautiful, but every once in a while they are a bit...racy.

So here is my modified recipe. I took out anything containing dairy or corn, and I was happy with the results. I think I might be able to modify this pound cake {which is dense in the traditional way} and use some additions to make it light and fluffy for a birthday cake in the future. But I'll let you know if that actually works.

Anyhow...the recipe!

GFCF Pound Cake
Ingredients
1 cup + 2 Tb Spectrum Naturals organic shortening
1.25 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2.5 tsp GFCF vanilla
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup arrowroot powder
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 tsp GFCF baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
zest of 1 lemon

Directions
Preheat oven to 325°F then grease a 9 x 5” bread pan {using the Spectum shortening} and set aside on top of two cookie sheets.

In a large mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the shortening and sugar on high speed for five whole minutes. While the butter is creaming, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt. Then grate the lemon zest right into the dry ingredients and set aside. After your five minutes is up, add the eggs, one at a time, being sure to whip for a full minute after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle as needed.

Once the eggs are fully incorporated, add the vanilla. Then, lower the mixer speed to medium and add the dry ingredients all at once and rotate for three to five minutes more. When the batter looks very aerated and is the color of clean limestone, it is ready. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake at 325°F for 50-60 minutes or when a knife inserted into the middle comes our clean. After 25 minutes of baking, check on your pound cake. If it has begun to darken rather quickly, loosely cover with an aluminum tent and resume baking.

Allow to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. When the pound cake feels cool to the touch, gently remove from the pan using a butter knife and return it to the cooling rack, right side up for serving. {I only edited these directions to make them dairy- and corn-free, otherwise they appear the same on the blog I linked to above.}

GFCF Meal Plan for Mar 24-31

If I keep posting meal plans much longer, you all are going to realize how boring I am, serving the same foods all the time. There are a few reasons for this. The main is price. I buy meats on sale, and if they aren't on sale, we are stuck with whole chickens and ground beef, both of which stretch just as I like them to. The other reason is morning-afternoon-and-night sickness. Even though it's gotten better, I just can't seem to eat much variety. I tried incorporating my chili recipe {a family favorite} back into the menu a week or two ago, and I just felt sick each time I served it.

So, for now we are stuck. It is just one of those times in life, and it will pass.

So, here is the plan, which is actually already beginning to rearrange itself as I forgot to defrost the chickens...But that is another story.

Monday, March 24
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover odds and ends from the weekend
Dinner: Pot roast with veggies and apple slices

Tuesday, March 25
Breakfast: Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover pot roast, veggies, and more apple slices
Dinner: Roast chickens {I'm roasting two, but only seasoning one because the other will be made into chicken salad later in the week} with chimichurri sauce, salad, and a potato dish on the side

Wednesday, March 26
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Sandwiches {on rice bread for the GFCF kids} at my mom's house
Dinner: Chicken tacos with salad {avocado!!} and refried beans

Thursday, March 27
Breakfast: Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Hot dogs {no buns for the GFCF kiddos, plus they get special hot dogs from Trader Joe's that are nitrate/nitrite free as well as GFCF and soy-free}
Dinner: Chicken salad on a bed of lettuce topped with avocado and tomato and a homemade cilantro vinegrette

Friday, March 28
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover chicken salad
Dinner: Spagetti {GFCF kids use brown rice noodles} and salad

Saturday, March 29
Breakfast: Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover spagetti and fruit slices
Dinner: Picadillo over jasmine rice {I get my Picadillo--or Mexican hash--recipe from Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook}

Sunday, March 30
Breakfast: Banana/orange/blueberry/almond milk smoothies
Lunch: Leftover picadillo and rice
Dinner: Fried eggs, country potatoes

Monday, March 31
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Baja Fresh, of course!
Dinner: Lentil burgers {GFCF means NO BUNS}, salad, and oven-fried seasoned potatoes

24 March 2008

Amish Childrearing

I have really been enjoying my new book on Amish culture, even though it often reads like a sociology textbook {which isn't exactly riveting if you were wondering}. I am only on page 34 and already I have had a few aha moments. As in, Aha, that is why they do what they do or think what they think. And I have also found that they are, to some extent, kindred spirits. I don't mean I'm about to throw on a long black dress, but I mean that there are things that we do for reasons similar to why the Amish do some of the things that they do.

Make sense? It made sense in my head.

Anyhow, I have always wondered about the Amish methods of raising children. After all, they have been able to maintain a level of respect that the average Christian community doesn't seem to garner. I remember when Amy wrote:
Our builder is a Mennonite who was Amish until five years ago. I will refrain from highly recommending him until the project is over, but we are more than pleased so far. He has taken care of water damage and crooked floors without readjusting the bid {though he’d be justified in doing so}. Owning a few sub-par properties over the years, we’ve dealt with a lot of contractors. I can’t say there’s anyone I’d deal with again or recommend. In fact, our pool guy walked off the job last year with our money– leaving a cracked, unfinished deck. Our rental units are a whole ‘nuther story worth its own book. So, it’s interesting to me that people seek out the work of the Amish—you know, “Amish built” or whatever—but my experience has been to steer clear of anyone with a business ad and the little fish symbol. There are some great Christians, yes, but they are harder to find {presumably due to the large number of people who say that they are but aren’t}. It seems you don’t have to wade through a few dozen Amish/Mennonites before you find one who won’t rob you blind. {emphasis mine}

The Amish have a certain level of quality control, to speak of it in dehumanizing industrial terminology. They consistently turn out grownups that are hard working, faithful to family and friends, honest, polite, respectable, and the list goes on. We all know it. And though I don't expect my children to grow up and drive a horse and buggy, it is my hope that the above list of virtues will describe them in time.

A few years ago, I had an interesting experience. We had a person tell us that they think our kids are great, well-behaved, or whatnot in one breath, and then, in the next breath, prove that they completely disagreed with our methods, especially our discipline methods. I found it fascinating that this person didn't seem to make any connection between the methods and the results.

Now, this is not to say that I am filled with confidence concerning the future success of my children in the grown-up world. I have great hopes, of course {don't we all?}, but just because a toddler will sit quietly through church doesn't mean that she will grow up to be a wonderful wife and mother. I am fairly satisfied with where we are {while also being well aware of where we need work}, while still knowing that we are many years off from proving ourselves successful in our endeavors.

However, the Amish have proven themselves for generations. And yet the tendency of our culture is to approach them with slight mockery, viewing them as throwbacks from times past. And yet, who wouldn't want their children to grow into such greatness of character? Again and again, however, our culture separates their methods from their results, believing that all roads can lead to virtue.

The longer I live {and I am yet quite young}, the more I come to understand that there are very few roads to virtue, and most roads lead to utter chaos.

So on to the quotes! All are gleaned from The Riddle of Amish Culture:
In daily life, Gelassenheit means "giving up" and "giving in." The child learns this at an early age. Parents teach their children that self-will must be given up if they want to become children of God. The large size of Amish families teaches young children to wait their turn as they yield to other siblings. Large families prepare the child for an adult life of yieldedness...

The Amish believe that the quickest way to spoil children is to let them have their own way. Parents and teachers are encouraged to "work together so that bad habits...disobedience, disrespect, etc. can be nipped in the bud so to speak." For young children, a spanking may help to nip disobedience in the bud. Children are taught to yield, to wait, to submit. An Amish leader noted: "By the time that the child reaches the age of three the mold has started to form and it is the parents' duty to form it in the way that the child should go. When the child is old enough to stiffen its back and throw back its head in temper it is old enough to gently start breaking that temper."

The Amish think modern children are spoiled by being driven from club to club and lesson to lesson in hopes that they will find and express their true selves. In contrast, Amish children are washing dishes by hand, feeding cows, hauling manure, pulling weeds, and mowing lawns. They are learning to lose their selves, to yield to the larger purposes of family and community. JOY, a widely used school motto, reminds children that Jesus is first, you are last, and others are in between. {pp. 29-30}
Childhood training ingrains obedience into daily routines, so that it becomes a taken-for-granted habit...Children are taught from the Bible: "Obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." An Amish booklet on child rearing speaks of the "habits of obedience." The Amish believe that parents should be "ready to punish disobedience," "insist on obedience," "allow no opposing replies," and should realize that "if orders are disobeyed once and no proper punishment given, disobedience is likely to come again." Parents are expected to make children "understand that they must obey you." Retorts and challenges from children, often accepted as amusing forms of self-expression in middle-class culture, are not tolerated by Amish elders. The child obeys the teacher in the Amish school, for "the teacher's word is the final authority and is to be obeyed." Yielding one's will at an early age is a crucial step in preparing for a life of obedience to authority.

[snip]

While expectations for obedience are firm and final, loving concern permeates the social system. A father spanks his child out of love. The bishop expels and shuns a memer in "hopes of winning him back."

As I was reading these passages, a few verses were brought to mind:
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
Proverbs 22:15
Do not hold back discipline from the child,
Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
Proverbs 23:13
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Proverbs 29:15
That last verse haunts me, standing in such antithesis to the first one. In the first, I train him up as he should go and when he is old he will be faithful. In the last, if I let him have his own way he will bring shame to me. And, I would think, to himself as well.

Excuse me. I think I will be going now, to hover more closely to my children for the day. You see, the alternate translation of "gets his own way" is "left to himself." As I yearn for their future uprightness of character and their love and faithfulness to their Creator, I am reminded that these things do not come about on their own, and children left to themselves become fools.

21 March 2008

How Hester Was Like Jesus

Si and I finished Diane Setterfield's novel this week. Si's parting word was, "Bravo." It really is that well done. After all, if I rarely read fiction, Si reads it even less. Both of us agree that there is a draught of good writing out there.

And Setterfield is an oasis in the desert of modern writing if I've ever met one.

So now I'm going to try and discuss a tiny bit of The Thirteenth Tale without spoiling it for anyone.

Setterfield is strong on character development, and one of my favorite characters from the book is the governess, Hester Barrow. Hester is all that a proper governess should be, from her neat, clean attire, to her prim and proper modes of expression, to her tidy and meticulous methods, to her perfect unadorned handwriting. Hester, though she has her downfall before the book is over, is, not unlike Setterfield herself, and oasis, only she is order in the midst of chaos.

Hester is spiritual, even though her effects on the Angelfield home are physically observable. She has a contagious goodness about her:
The grubbiness of the house did not transfer itself to our pristine governess the way one might have expected. Instead it was the other way around. The few rays of light, drained and dusty, that managed to penetrate the uncleaned windows and the heavy curtains seemed always to fall on Hester. She gathered them to herself and reflected them back into the gloom, refreshed and vitalized by their contact with her. Little by little the gleam extended from Hester herself to the house. On the first full day it was just her own room that was affected. She took the curtains down and plunged them into a tub of soapy water. She pegged them on the line where the sun and wind woke up the unsuspected pattern of pink and yellow roses. While they were drying, she cleaned the window with newspaper and vinegar to let the light in, and when she could see what she was doing, she scrubbed the room from floor to ceiling. By nightfall she had created a little haven on cleanliness within those four walls. And that was just the beginning.

With soap and with bleach, with energy and with determination, she imposed hygiene on that house. Where for generations the inhabitants had lumbered half-seeing and purposeless, circling after nothing but their own squalid obsessions, Hester came as a spring-cleaning miracle...

After cleanliness came order, and the house was first to feel the changes.

[snip]

Within a few days there were mealtimes, bedtimes, getting-up times. A few days more and there were clean shoes for indoors, clean boots for out.

[snip]

Hester had triumphed. She might have looked like a potato, but there was nothing that girl couldn't do, once she put her mind to it.

It seems like a list of simple tasks that require a relatively unskilled worker to perform them. Cleaning, ordering, and the like. She was supposed to be the governess, a source of knowledge for the children, and there she was, doing the work of a common maid.

And doing it well.

And doing it cheerfully.

And doing it like Jesus.

I don't mean this in a work-with-all-your-might sort of way, even though that is, also, precisely what she did. I mean this in a light-banishing-the-darkness sort of way.

Hester was glowing within and without {despite her plain appearance}, and that glow radiated to even the darkest corners of the house.

This is one of the things I love about Jesus. We see Him walking the pages of the New Testament with a contagious cleanness. While others, upon touching a leper, would contract the disease, He, upon touching a leper, caused the leper to contract His healthiness. While others, upon touching a hemorrhaging woman, would become ritually unclean {if not literally unclean}, He, upon touching such a woman, caused the woman to contract His wholeness.

Contagious. Catching. These words are usually used in threatening terms because they imply that someone else's presence could be a threat to our own health and well-being.

And yet, in regard to Jesus and Hester, that is what we want: to catch the light, the health, the cleanness. We want to stand there and become better and more simply because we caught whatever it was they had.

And this is how the Christian should be. Hester isn't just like Jesus. In this initial picture, she is also the ideal Christian. Sure, she is simply banishing dust and grime. But we all know it is hard to teach hungry person about God's love while the stomach lies empty. The same goes in this situation. How could Hester teach young minds to think well when their environment encouraged nothing but chaos and disorderliness?

No, Hester took care of the small things, knowing that this would pave the way for the larger things. And, in doing so, became symbolic of the Christian life: light, cleanness, brilliance, order, wholeness, goodness, and health flowing forth from her to others.



I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
I will not forsake them.

Isaiah 42:16

20 March 2008

The Darndest Things: And STILL They Grow Up

I regularly tell my kids to stop growing up. I feel like my almost six years of parenting have flown by, and with each child, it all speeds up. So sometimes I tell them to stop. They, of course, look at me like I am crazy.

But really, they are growing and changing. That is the strange thing about mothering. You do the same job for the same people every day, and yet those people are constantly different.

Take Q., for example. She was so tiny for so long that I felt she would finally be my child that remained a baby forever. She belonged to Mama longer than the other two did, longer by many months. And yet, recently, she ditched me for Dad. Now, she doesn't want to sit on my lap while I rock her in my chair. No! She wants to run around being loud. She wants to jump on people, wrestle with Dad.

Mama doesn't wrestle. You can ask anyone around here and they will verify this.

And then there is A. A. was mute for almost two-and-a-half years. But now she chatters away and I find myself asking her to stop nagging me. She recently reached a stage that I distinctly remember E. being in. When I realized this, I found myself thinking, Now, when did he outgrow that? I didn't even notice.

Yes, three-year-olds nag. They do! I remember making a rule that no one was allowed to tell E. about any major event until the day-of because he would drive me crazy. I made the mistake of telling A. about the birthday party this weekend. She proceeded to follow me around for 45 minutes saying, I want to go pardy, I want to go pardy. Over and over. I told her to stop nagging, and yet I know she will bring it up again in an hour.

And E.! He has grown most dramatically of all. A few weeks ago, he expressed interest in taking a shower. I was shocked, but tried to play it cool. I told him to ask his dad, who said yes. I think we both thought this would be a one-time thing. But no! Our boy takes showers now. No more playing with tub toys.

And then, we were all getting ready to leave for something and I wandered into the garage in time to see what looked like my boy putting the trash in the big trashcan. I thought my eyes must have been deceiving me. Up until now, he tied up the trash in the kitchen and put it into the garage to wait for Dad because he wasn't strong enough to finish the process. So I asked him if he had just taken out the trash. He tried to downplay it. He told me it was a light bag this time and so he just grabbed it and threw it in.

I know better. This is all part of the Growing Up Conspiracy that the three of them have secretly agreed on.

This was confirmed when, later in the week, he went down to the curb and brought the big can in after curbside pickup was complete.

So yesterday I can't say I was surprised when I felt a disctinctly familiar thumping in my tummy. Until now, I have been apt to forget I'm pregnant half the time. I simply think I have a persistent flu. But that thumping was Baby's attempt to remind me: I'm here, Baby says, determined to grow up one day, too.

19 March 2008

Si Reviews: The Faith

I mentioned last week that Si recently finished reviewing Chuck Colson's latest work. I must say that Si's association with PFM through the Centurions Program {he was commissioned back in the beginning of 2006} has its perks, not the least of which is the packages of CDs, DVDs, and books that arrive on our doorstep periodically.

Si says:




The Faith: What Christians Believe,
Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters

4 out of 5 stars


"The Faith" by Colson and Fickett beautifully captures the heart of orthodox Christianity. It is no small task to isolate the essential doctrines of the Christian faith with which all true believers agree. And it's even more difficult to make those doctrines interesting and practical. Yet this is precisely what the authors have done.

I recommend the book to the young faithful as well as the church elder. Reading each chapter inspires greater confidence in the reasonableness of our faith. After all, as Colson points out, Christianity is not a noncognitive spirituality trapped behind the walls of a church but a practical, meaningful and rational worldview that applies to all of life. I am grateful to the authors for plumbing the depths of the Faith's great truths for the benefit of layman-readers like me.

GFCF Meal Plan for Mar 17-24

Another week, another meal plan. Such is life. A meal plan is a great organizational tool. I can't remember when it was that I first discovered this. I have photos of me preparing a meal plan and corresponding grocery list back when I had only a single newborn. I look so young in that photo; I was 24 at the time.

It is my belief that a meal plan is one of the best tools when living on a GFCF or otherwise strict diet. The reason for this is that there is hardly such a thing as a quick, fast, convenience food for this diet. At least not one of much substance. For instance, we will be heading to Chili's this weekend for a family meal. The kids can eat black beans, hamburger patties, and bar-be-que sauce. That's it. This isn't even a meal, but two sides that must be ordered separately and with care.

Even if a family is planning on eating out, it is helpful to have compiled a list, in advance, of the possible options. Almost everything on the average restaurant menu will contain gluten, casein, soy, or some artifical additive that might trip up The Diet. My sister has done a wonderful job compiling a list of every possible restaurant {fast food and otherwise} and exactly what is safe for the children at each one. {Her husband likes to eat out a lot.}

So planning is essential if you want to avoid potential mishaps.

Here is this week's menu:

Monday, March 17
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Baja Fresh, our Monday tradition with Granmama {Si took leftover chili from the weekend}
Dinner: Lentil burgers, salad, homefries {Did you know burned lentils smell like coffee? Ask me how I know...}

Tuesday, March 18
Breakfast: Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover spagetti from the weekend. The kids had brown rice noodles while I had the gluten variety. My morning sickness objects to rice pasta. Si had chili for the second day in a row.
Dinner: Ground beef tacos {seasoning recipe is here...make sure and use 100% corn tortillas treated with lime} topped with lots of raw veggies {lettuce, onion, tomato, avocado}, vegetarian refried beans on the side

Wednesday, March 19
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, followed up two hours later with a fruit smoothie made from oranges, bananas, blueberries, and almond milk
Lunch: Leftover tacos for everyone
Dinner: Invited to my parents' house! Let's hear it for a cooking break!

Thursday, March 20
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Hot dogs {no buns for the GFCF kiddos, plus they get special hot dogs from Trader Joe's that are nitrate/nitrite free as well as GFCF and soy-free}
Dinner: Savory herb pot roast, roasted veggies {carrots, celery, potatoes}, and gingerbread from the new cookbook Grace bought me called The Kid-Friendly ADHD and Autism Cookbook!

Friday, March 21
Breakfast: Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover pot roast, etc.
Dinner: Savory Cabbage Soup {Someday, I will post this recipe. The secret ingredient is GFCF safe Chorizo Chicken Sausage from Trader Joe's.}

Saturday, March 22
Breakfast: Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Leftover pot roast
Dinner: A truly safe birthday party! I am bringing an extra cake for the allergic kids.

Sunday, March 23
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and fruit slices
Lunch: Chili's with family
Dinner: Leftover soup {we are having a long day of time with family and this will be something simple when we return}

Monday, March 24
Breakfast: GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Lunch: Baja Fresh, of course!
Dinner: Lentil burgers, salad, and oven-fried seasoned potatoes

A simple meal plan for a busy week. As usual, I have a chicken or two in the freezer that I can roast if we look like we're going to run out of food before the week is up. This is one of my typical backup plans. Do you have a plan for this week?

18 March 2008

Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes

I mentioned yesterday that rotating grains is the key to making sure allergic kids don't build up intolerances. Any doctor that has studied food allergies will tell you this. Think of allergies as an overall immune dysfunction. Right now, my kids' immune systems treat wheat and casein and soy as if they were cold viruses. This means their immune systems attack the proteins in these foods. But immune systems can decide to attack something else, either instead of the former foods or, more likely, in addition to the former foods.

So, there is a general rule of thumb that comes into play here: Rotation helps with prevention.

Since pancakes are something easy for me to whip up in the morning (that are also fairly inexpensive), I make them almost daily. There are a couple ways to do rotation. For instance, I could just alternate my two pancake recipes every-other-day. Or, I could do three days in a row of one, and then three days in a row of another. I'd like to do this long term, once I'm growing some of my own fruit. I envision three days of one recipe, and then one day of smoothies made from fruit and organic almond milk. Doing it this way would give us a day off of eggs as well.

A girl can dream, right?

So today's recipe is yesterday's recipe's alter ego. Nobody seems to like my brunette recipe as well as my blonde recipe, and I can't say that I blame them. After all, I was blonde until after I had my first child, when my hair suddenly darkened into an unrecognizable shade of brown. I certainly enjoyed blonde more than I have brunette.

But I maintain that grain rotation is more important than anyone's hair color preference.

Ahem.

I suppose one could lower the amount of teff grain and instead add more rice, which would soften it up a bit, kind of like adding highlights. But this is hard for me to do, knowing how wonderfully nutritious teff is.

Without further delay, here is the recipe:

Brunette GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Ingredients
1/2 cup whole buckwheat
1/2 cup whole teff
1/2 cup whole jasmine rice
1.5 cups water + 1.5 Tb lemon juice
3 Tb sugar (agave syrup is gaining in popularity--would it work here?)
3 Tb olive oil
1 large egg
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp gluten-free non-aluminum baking powder

Directions
1. The night before place the water + lemon juice combo in a glass blender. If you are using a plastic blender, then do this step in a glass bowl. Acid and plastic overnight is asking for a problem! Finely grind the buckwheat, teff and rice in a coffee grinder (might take more than one batch to get it all ground) and dump in the blender. Blend. (If you are using a glass bowl, just stir it up until it's thoroughly mixed.)

2. In the morning, start the blender. Add sugar, oil, and egg. You need a good vortex in the center before adding the baking powder. If there isn't one by this time, add small amounts of water until you get one. Add salt. Slowly add baking powder, aiming for the center of the vortex. This is important if you don't want yucky clumps of baking powder in your pancakes.

3. Cook just like regular pancakes. Makes about a dozen 3-inch pancakes. They even rise a bit! Top with real maple syrup (we like grade B because it's a little bit lighter to taste). Remember: butter contains casein, and the cheaper the butter, the more casein it contains (as a general rule). Use a substitute if you need something on top. Other options might include raw honey (which aids in starch digestion since it contains amylase) or all-fruit spreads.

Mr. & Mrs.: Hierarchy and the Homeschooled Child

Even though we homeschool, I try not to think of it as a universal panacea. Homeschooling, just like institutional schooling, has its inherent downfalls, and the better homeschools I have seen and heard of seem to be the ones that are realistic about these weaknesses. These families face them head-on and think proactively about how to conquer.

In other words, they are offensive rather than defensive.

To give perhaps the easiest example, homeschooling can be very easy to push aside. Parents may start out with great dreams of a quality education but suddenly the baby is sick, a relative dies, Dad takes a business trip and--gasp!--the family hasn't done a lick of school in weeks!

Now, first of all, we have to admit that reality really does impact schooling, institutional included. The death of a relative, more likely than not, would result in school absences regardless of the educational approach. However, this doesn't change the fact that homeschooling, because it is at home, can be crowded out by the rest of life.

And this is why most families I know start school pretty early in the morning. They don't let the day get away from them, and many times the children are done with enough time remaining to allow the rest of life to be lived.

Trust me when I say that school goes much faster (even in kindergarten) when teacher doesn't have to wait for a class of squirming five-year-olds to settle down and be quiet.

Well, another potential weakness for homeschoolers, especially here in the Left Coast where hierarcy is practically dead and has been since at least the 1980's, is getting too casual. By casual, I don't mean reading on the couch. The couch is far superior to a desk when you want a child to get absorbed in a book and really catch a love for reading. What I mean is getting casual about social structures, about distinctions and social ordering.

The Left Coast has a tendency toward chaos, I think.

I am vaguely aware that Richard Weaver could shed much light on this subject. After all, it was in reading a discussion between blogging book club members reading his classic work Ideas Have Consequences that I first caught on to the idea of hierarchy.

If only PaperBackSwap would grant my wish for a copy of his work...

Why would I be concerned about a lack of hierarchy in society? Why would social structures be important? The answer is rather simple: They imply an ideal.

I will explain using the concept of children calling their elders "Mr." and "Mrs." This was a big decisions for us. Well, for me. Si was raised in the South and was required to not only say Mr. and Mrs. but also ma'am and sir. I, on the other hand, called most adults by their first names.

However, I still had a sense of hierarchy because I went to school. At school, there were Mr. and Mrs. as my teachers. And above them were people with scary titles like Dean and Principal.

Institutions are full of hierarchy. Now, I don't want to sing the praises of hierarchy as if it could do no wrong. But, in a world that is too casual (to the point that it insists on taking nothing seriously), I think a bit of hierarchy is healthy.

When a child uses the word Mr., he is making a distinction. With every ring of that word he is forced to admit that there are children, and there are adults. Adults (or at least the adults that we purposely expose our children to on a regular basis) are what our children ought to be when they are grown. They tend to know lots of things children don't know.

Calling someone Mr. drills into my child's head that he is not yet grown, that he hasn't yet reached his goals. It fights a bit of the battle against hubris. It forces a bit of humility in that it makes a distinction. Adulthood is a club, child, and though you are more than welcome to witness it, and though all of these adults love you, you are not yet in the club. However, if you work hard, you will join the club in time and we will be thrilled to have you with us.

In the casual world, we see childhood lasting for an eternity. I run across mothers saying their sons aren't old enough to marry and have children. These sons, by the way, are my age, sometimes older. Apparently, getting older no longer directly translates into joining the Adulthood Club.

As I tell my children when they speak to me too casually, when they cross that line between teasing and disrespect: I am not your friend. And I usually add, However, if you work hard and grow up well, we will be very good friends when it is time.

I do not use hierarchy to designate the unattainable. I don't think of it in terms of royalty versus the rest of us. In the situation of royalty, there is no potential for improvement. I use it, rather, in the sense of goals and ideals. There is, after all, an ideal way to manage finances, to live one's life, to grow up. This doesn't mean that we must be cookie cutters, but it does mean that one should learn to be financially responsible rather than irresponsible, moral rather than immoral, adult rather than immature.

So why do we have our children use titles when speaking to adults? It's simple, really. It is to show them that there is a real, tangible line that separates adults from children. Our goal after that is to coach them to cross that line when the time comes.

_________________________________________________

In other news: Have you requested your review copy of my husband's book? We haven't received them yet, so there is still time to put in your bid!

17 March 2008

Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes

I am sure you've all noticed that Blender Batter Pancakes are regular breakfast fare around here. I've been experimenting with my grains, and I finally found one recipe that is worth sharing. How do I know? They taste pretty good plain. That is the true test for a pancake. Can you take a bite without syrup and actually savor it? A lot of my whole grain concoctions are fine, but I wouldn't say they are great.

My biggest battle is against aftertaste. And I thought that was due to the amaranth, and yet here I am with a pretty great recipe containing...amaranth.

So anyhow...

I make blender batter pancakes almost daily, but we try not to make the same thing daily. Kids with severe allergies can easily build up intolerances. This happened to us in the corn area. And now, due to the corn shortage, I think, my 25-pound bag of organic whole dry corn was back ordered. So I'm really having to get creative.

All of this is to say that rotating the grains is a key to dealing with allergies. The same goes for rotating meat proteins in severe children. My nephew, for instance, has a different meat assigned to each day of the week.

People sometimes ask if this sort of thing is worth it. All I can say is, it is. My sister says the diet has given her her life back. Her son didn't sleep through the night for four-and-a-half years. He had severe behavior problems that were direct results of the food allergies causing damage to his brain. Our son, on the other hand, would still be twitching in such a way that he would be unable to live a normal life.

So, you see, the diet is hard, but living with a child with severe and disturbing health problems is worse. The diet is not a burden, but rather a key to recovering our kids.

So...on to the recipe!

Blonde GFCF Blender Batter Pancakes
Ingredients
1/2 cup whole millet
1/2 cup whole amaranth
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup arrowroot powder {tapioca flour would probably work also}
1.5 cups water + 1.5 Tb lemon juice
3 Tb sugar {I used turbinado this morning, evaporated cane juice is even better}
3 Tb olive oil
1 large egg
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp gluten-free baking powder

Directions

  1. The night before place the water + lemon juice combo in a glass blender. If you are using a plastic blender, then do this step in a glass bowl. Acid and plastic overnight is asking for a problem! Finely grind the millet and amaranth in a coffee grinder {might take more than one batch to get it all ground} and dump in the blender. Also add the sorghum flour and arrowroot powder. Blend. {If you are using a glass bowl, just stir it up until it's thoroughly mixed.}
  2. In the morning, start the blender. Add sugar, oil, and egg. You need a good vortex in the center before adding the baking powder. If there isn't one by this time, add small amounts of water until you get one. Add salt. Slowly add baking powder, aiming for the center of the vortex. This is important if you don't want yucky clumps of baking powder in your pancakes.
  3. Cook just like regular pancakes. Makes about a dozen 3-inch pancakes. They even rise a bit! Top with maple syrup. Remember: butter contains casein, and the cheaper the butter, the more casein it contains {as a general rule}. Use a substitute if you need something on top.


15 March 2008

Reading: What's On Deck

Yesterday, I started reading an older book that is available online concerning earthworms. If you have never studied earthworms, you are really missing out! They are one of God's most humble, most lowly, yet most important creatures. Don't believe me? Check the facts for yourself. Harnessing earthworms is a must for anyone interested in organic farming or gardening. They are a cornerstone of the biodynamic method, and the most invaluable gardening "tool" you could ever come across.

In other reading news, Si and I are still working our way through Diane Setterfield's beautiful work, The Thirteenth Tale. We still like it.

A lot.

But this post isn't about current reads. Not really. It's about what's on deck. In other words, it's about hope for the future.

First, we have a classic of classics:






The City of God


This is another book that will take us forever and a day to read. We read aloud, as I have said before. This slows the process down, but allows for shared thoughts in a way that reading separately never can.

From the back cover copy:
"Here is a book that was written over fifteen hundred years ago by a mystic in North Africa. Yet to those who have ears to hear, it has a great deal to say to many of us who are not mystics, today, in America...The City of God is the autobiography of the Church written by the most Catholic of her great saints...The City of God, for those who can understand it, contains the secret of death and life, war and peace, hell and heaven."
--Thomas Merton
Next, we finished the famed Little House on the Prairie last night. I made sure I got the whole set from PaperBackSwap. So our upcoming adventure will be a romp through the next book in the series, Farmer Boy. I have been told that this is the one little boys usually like the best.

PaperBackSwap has been granting my wishes and whims left and right, and so I have two books on deck there. The first is The Riddle of Amish Culture. I plan to understand the riddle a bit better by the time I'm done. And E. has expressed an interest in learning about the Plain People, so I also consider this a pre-read, where I decide how old he will need to be before he conquers a certain book.

The second is my very first Wendell Berry {I plan to collect them all}: Jayber Crow. I will probably blog through that one. It's not just a novel. It never is with Berry, from my understanding. There is a lot to learn about his philosophy of culture and agriculture through reading his fiction works.

Or so I've been told.

Si just finished reviewing The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters, and next up for him is:







A Meaningful World:
How the Arts And Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature


He read a tiny bit while he was in the waiting room when he broke his toe. His initial reaction? This isn't your everyday Intelligent Design work. This is something beautiful. It's an argument for the existence of God, but written in beautiful prose. If you are looking to add to your ID collection {ahem...Nate} this might be a consideration.

14 March 2008

Copy Work 101

I don't write about our homeschooling very often. Much of this stems from the fact that we are, in the scheme of things, quite new at this. I love what we are doing, but I think I am in the stage of life where I have a lot more to learn than I have advice to dispense.

However, when something is really working for me, I like to make it known in hopes that it might help someone else.

Almost a year ago, I posted about my Great Penmanship Triumph. I had found a {free} handwriting worksheet generator online, and it was working great for us. It was true then, but circumstances change, and there was still a lot I didn't know about writing at that time.

The major flaw, as I see it, in the particular generator that I had linked to, was that the font size didn't shrink enough. Think back to kindergarten and the giant rules on the manuscript paper you used. Now, think about college rules. It is apparent that, eventually, we all learn to write in a smaller size.

Moreover, in observing my son I noticed that, for him, writing in the larger size was actually more difficult. I don't know that this is true of all children, but it certainly was of him. The A, for instance, was so tall that he had trouble writing the lines straight enough. A smaller A, however, was no problem.

And so, a few months ago, I set out to look for a more permanent solution. My hopes were that I could find a font instead of a worksheet generator. This way, I could design worksheets of varying lengths in my word processing program on the computer. There would be no need for Internet access, nor a special handwriting software program.

Before I tell you my criteria, I think I will share the long-term goal. Goals are important, because they actually help you define criteria. For instance, one of the goals we have for our son is that, one day when he is {much} older he will have a reading journal. In this journal, he can record quotes from books, along with his own analysis of what he has read. I believe that this will help him maintain a lifestyle of learning when he is grown.

Now, this is only one of many goals. Obviously, I expect him to learn to write clearly, using proper punctuation and grammar. It is my belief that much of this can be picked up through the act of copy work {by which I mean copying something down exactly as it is written}. I expect him to be able to write for longer periods of time. This means that he needs to work up from one short worksheet to several pages covering, perhaps, several short paragraphs of material.

There is actually a lot available in the world of fonts, and so now I will share my criteria before I tell you what we ended up buying:

  1. Varying sizes. I wanted this font to get big enough to use for my beginner students, but small enough for a student, like E., who is transitioning.
  2. I wanted this font to have options to print with rules, or without. I wanted to be able to print a blank ruled line underneath the line printed with words.
  3. My little students start out by tracing, so I wanted the option to print the letters as dashed or dotted, still also having rules.
  4. Ideally, this font would also have a cursive option so that we could use the program well into the later primary and even elementary years if necessary.
  5. I wanted the individual letters of the font to look as close to how we were already learning to form the letters as possible. No need for confusion because I taught him the q had a curve or angle at the bottom and a new font we bought just drew it straight down!
  6. I wanted to be able to print the font without rules for a big student. Maybe type a short paragraph at the top and then blank rules at the bottom for copying, was my thought.
  7. Not too expensive. Even though this will be serving many students over many years, I didn't want to pay hundreds of dollars for it.

In short, I wanted a font that was incredibly flexible and perfect for the job. And I wasn't sure there was one out there.

But there was.

I have been using it for two weeks. I have already noticed marked improvement in E.'s writing. He gets a worksheet daily. They are long, printed on legal rather than letter paper. Sometimes, they are two-sided, especially if it is a poem. He mainly copies excerpts from books we've been reading for school. Oh! He also copies his weekly memory verses each Monday.

This font is fabulous. It has so many print and style options that I don't know where to begin in singing its praises. It meets all my criteria, including the cursive option. There is an added benefit in that there is something for cursive called LinkLetter. The font actually teaches the computer the correct way to link the letters so that the worksheet will print out exactly the way we teach real handwriting. This means that the letter "o" connects differently to an "e" than an "a" and so on.

So...what did I buy?

I bought a font from Education Fontware, Inc. They had many different fonts available. I scrolled through all of them until I found one where both the print and the cursive that went with it were the most like what I envisioned my children learning to imitate. I am sure that this will vary by family, which is why it is so nice that they have such a huge selection.

I am very picky about handwriting, and some of this is because writing has been one of my son's more difficult skills to learn. So I really looked at those letters. I wanted capitals that weren't too narrow or too wide. I made sure the letters were formed the way I had already taught him to write them. I made sure the numbers were formed the way I had already taught him to write them. I made sure the cursive wasn't too flowery.

I picked Frank Schaffer-style.

By the way, they also have a great font called Handwriting without Tears-style. I have read many praises for this font from parents of left-handed children. If you have a lefty, you might want to consider this font, even though it looks a bit strange to a righty. The fact that the cursive is straight up-and-down makes all the difference to a lefty.

And that's that. I am sure you now know more about our handwriting adventures than you ever, ever wanted to know.

13 March 2008

From the Mailbag re: Divorce

I know there are a lot of people divorcing for the wrong reason but some have a legitimate reason. The Bible says that if an unbeliever wants to leave let him leave for you are not bound to him in that case. Also it says that adultery is a ground. Also what if the person is being beat everyday, the children are in danger, or doing other things that would put you in danger. I believe if you are in danger you should leave. Also you shouldn't judge people because some people divorce because they were in danger and didn't know what else to do.

Both of my parents were divorced before they married each other. My mom was abandoned and my dad was in a bad situation too. Do you think my parents are going to hell?


The above is an email sent to my inbox this week. The only reason I am choosing to deal with this on the blog is because I think it is appropriate to deal with it here. What I mean is, in the past {2006} I wrote about divorce. Even though, to my regular readers, those posts are ancient history, I get hits occasionally from search engines. Usually, the key words are "DivorceCare criticism" or, simply, "divorce".

This person cannot possibly be the first to misunderstand me, and so I think a public clarification is in order.

I will go through the email line-by-line to better articulate my beliefs on this subject. The email I received did not tell which posts exactly it was referring to, but if I have to guess I am thinking it was either Divorce/Remarriage in the Midst {where I discussed the difficulties of Sunday School due to custody battles, as well as criticized the DivorceCare philosophy a bit} or Expanding the Divorce/Remarriage Discussion {which was mainly a follow-up based on one of the comments I had received at that time}, or possibly both.

If it is a different post, I will have to plead ignorance. I searched my archives for the word "divorce" and those were the most likely posts, I think.

Okay, so enough of the gritty details. Let me turn my attention to the email itself.
I know there are a lot of people divorcing for the wrong reason but some have a legitimate reason. The Bible says that if an unbeliever wants to leave let him leave for you are not bound to him in that case. Also it says that adultery is a ground. Also what if the person is being beat everyday, the children are in danger, or doing other things that would put you in danger. I believe if you are in danger you should leave.
God hates divorce. I wrote about this in my post, and I think that is probably what rubbed this reader wrong. In a world full of divorce, it is hard to swallow. But I think it is important to understand that God really does hate divorce. Because of this, the prevalence of divorce should concern us a great deal.

The reader is right, though. The Bible really does say that if a person is married to an unbeliever, and that unbeliever wants to discontinue the marriage, this is considered acceptable. The Bible also says that if the unbeliever is willing to stay, the marriage should continue. The Bible is always in favor of marriage.

The situation with the unbeliever is perhaps the only anomaly in Scripture. In the other circumstance {adultery}, the divorce is a direct result of sin. To say that God hates divorce, that divorce is sinful and horrible, is not a judgment on the victims adulterous spouses.

Though I will say that it has been my observation that many divorces take two. I think it is a rare occasion {especially in our current culture} that one spouse is completely innocent and virtuous while the other is completely sinful and corrupt. I would be remiss to say that this is never the case. I am sure there are a number of folks who have married someone they thought they knew only to discover a dark side later on. However, the divorces I have observed among my own acquaintances reveal that often adultery is one of many sins that are plaguing the marriage.

As an aside, I find it pertinent that the Bible does not prescribe divorce for adulterous situations. What I mean is, if a spouse has been unfaithful, the marriage is not commanded to end. The book of Hosea gives us a beautiful picture of God's love in the form of a man faithfully loving and redeeming his unfaithful wife. If a spouse is able, I am sure that exercising this beauty of redeeming love is an act of faithfulness to the Lord.
Also what if the person is being beat everyday, the children are in danger, or doing other things that would put you in danger. I believe if you are in danger you should leave.
I do not think that remaining in a dangerous situation is wise. And, as I look back at my entries over the years, I see no evidence that I ever said otherwise. There is, however, a difference between separating oneself from a dangerous situation and pursuing a divorce. These sorts of things are, I believe, best worked out within the local church community and not on a blog where the writer is wholly unfamiliar with the details of the situation.

With that said, I know that there really is abuse out there and the abuse, again, really is sinful. Again we get back to the idea that God hates divorce, and that these divorces are a direct result of sin.

A number of Christian thinkers agree that prosecuting the abusive spouse is an appropriate response to the situation. In this case, the remaining spouse can be loving and supportive {through letter-writing and/or visitation}, but in a situation where they are protected due to the spouse's imprisonment. It is hoped that, through the extension of Christian spousal love during the time spent in captivity and discipline, as well as Christ's work in the abusive spouse's heart, the abusive spouse can be encouraged to repent and be restored to the community in time.
Also you shouldn't judge people because some people divorce because they were in danger and didn't know what else to do.
I am not aware that I ever did judge people in these sorts of situation. However, I may have forgotten something I once wrote and I am certainly open to correction if someone can send me a link to one of my past posts.

I am also aware, incidentally, that our behavior changes over time. In my past, there were things that I thought were okay. Over time, I have decided that the Bible actually says that they are not, and that there are better ways to live and behave. I remember once reading something the Bluedorns wrote in regard to homeschooling. They were responding to the idea that they were judging others for not homeschooling. Their answer was along the lines of this: We are all trying to get to New York, and we're all starting in California. If I used to be in Nevada, but now I'm in Oklahoma, who am I to judge you for being in Nevada right now? The idea was that what they had written was meant for correction, instruction, and encouragement. Their purpose had never been to condemn or judge.

It is important to understand this contrast. We live in a world where everything that rubs us wrong is instantly declared "judgmental." And so we dismiss what has been said. But sometimes what was said was far from judging and was actually meant to be helpful. If a person is driving along a road that ends at a cliff and I tell them where they are headed, I'm trying to help, not trying to judge. But if the driver dismisses me as judgmental, then he fails to learn what would have been a very instructive lesson.

My purpose in blogging is not to judge. And it isn't really so much to teach, either, as I feel that I am still so much a student. I look at it, more than anything, as a chance for collaboration, a chance to write what I think I've learned, but put it out there so that others might help refine my ideas.
Both of my parents were divorced before they married each other. My mom was abandoned and my dad was in a bad situation too. Do you think my parents are going to hell?
This particular part yanked at my very heart, for a number of reasons. Let me deal with the least serious part first. I do not think that past divorces, no matter the grounds, negate current marriages. When I meet a couple and one or both of them is remarried, I want my influence on that couple to be supportive and encouraging. Divorce is bad, yes. Divorce is always, always bad. It is always, always a result of some sort of sin. It is.

But it would be sinful for me to be disrespectful of the new marriage. Reader, your parents are married. I am in full support of their marriage, and I hope it is long {until death!} and very, very happy. I hope it displays the love of Christ to everyone who witnesses it.

Do I think your parents are going to hell? This question reveals to me one of two things: either this is sarcasm, to try and make a point, or there is a true misunderstanding of salvation and how it is brought about.

I am going to assume the latter.

Reader, we all deserve to go to hell. We all have sinned. Big sins, little sins, we all have them, we are all guilty, and we are all separated from God because of it. My son's memory verse last week was this: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." {James 2:10} As far as guilt is concerned, the Bible makes it very clear that we are all guilty.

In that regard, your parents are no different from you. No different from me.

The Bible says that salvation comes not through doing good things, but from believing in Christ. The process of coming to Christ involves admitting that we are sinners in need of a savior. Admitting that we want to stop sinning and we need help. Admitting there is a God, that Christ is His Son, worthy of worship, and that it is He with whom we wish to spend both our days on earth as well as our days in eternity.

Once we believe there is a God and that Christ is His Messiah for us, we embrace Christ, turn our back on our sins {called repentance}. We are baptized. And we serve Him all of our days. Are we instantaneously perfect? Of course not. Being made perfect, the process called sanctification, takes time. But we have a Helper named the Holy Spirit, and we are not alone.

Reader, if you are new to this, I would highly suggest meeting with someone from a local church and reading a Bible. I wish you were here in my home so that I could explain to you all the riches of following Christ, all the beauties of learning that salvation is truly free, truly a gift of God for which we could never work hard enough, and, thankfully, don't have to!

So, are your parents going to hell? Frankly, I do not know your parents. But I know that Jesus is the only way to salvation. And He is capable of saving His own, no matter what they have done. Not even divorce can keep us from His love.

11 March 2008

The Darndest Things: On Eating Dirt

I think that Q. is going to be more like E.," I tell my grandfather proudly. "You know, he was able to play outside while I was making dinner starting at about fourteen months! I would watch him from the window, of course, but he was naturally so responsible. I never had to worry about him eating anything."

And then I look at A. and point at her. "That one was a different story. When she was two she was still eating things. And choking! She had such a choking reflex for so long. She was never able to go outside unattended."

I pause and look over at Q.

"But Q. is different, I think. She's more like E."

I look at Q. again. This time she's holding a clod of dirt. She smiles at me...

...and takes a bite.

Brandy's GFCF Pumpkin Berry Spice Bread

Last week in my GFCF meal plan, I said that if the muffins turned out well enough I would post the recipe. Well, the muffins turned into bread, which turned out not perfect, but well enough that the recipe is worth posting. Especially since I can tell you what I would do differently next time.

If there is one upside to learning to cook GFCF, it's that I am learning to be more flexible and creative in the kitchen. I am a rules person. I follow rules whenever there are rules, and I am occasionally known to fret if there aren't rules for fear that there really are rules and I'm just ignorant.

Ahem.

There are very few rules for GFCF cooking, and some of the rules I refuse to follow because they make the recipe cost more than I am willing to pay for it.

Take, for instance, the use of guar gum or xanthan gum. The "rule" is that, for every cup of gluten-free flour, one should use 1/2 teaspoon of one of the gums. This will make your bread rise better. I, however, have yet to break down and buy these items because I can't stand the price tag.

Therefore, we eat heavy, flat bread. It still tastes fine, I promise.

This is proof that you can be a rule-follower while not actually being a perfectionist.

Moving ever onward, please note that there will be no GFCF meal plan this week. I have many excuses. Want me to list them?

  1. I liked last week so much I basically reworked it for this week.
  2. I really needed to get rid of two of the chickens I had in the freezer, but who wants a meal plan full of chicken variations?
  3. London broil was on sale and I just have too much compassion to make you all jealous of our menu. And then there is, most importantly...
  4. Grace is coming for a visit! This means that my parents will be watching children part of the weekend while Si and I join Grace over and Kimberly and Dominic's house for a lot of food containing gluten, dairy, preservatives, and especially Red 40 {which we all know really makes everything taste better}.

Ahem.

See why I'm not posting a meal plan?

So on to the recipe:

Brandy's GFCF Pumpkin Berry Spice Bread
Ingredients
2 cups sorghum flour
1 cup rice flour
2 cups water + 2 Tb vinegar OR lemon juice {this is the "acid agent mixture"}
1 can organic pumpkin {Trader Joe's was having a sale...}
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cloves
3 tsp baking soda
1 cup berries, chopped

Directions
1. 24 hours in advance, soak flours in the water + acid agent mixture. Leave in a warm place. The longer this soaks, the better it will rise. Not that it will actually rise well. We really do this to make the bread more digestible and therefore less allergenic. This is very healthy for normal people, too.

2. Preheat oven to 350.

3. In a large bowl, combine all the other ingredients except berries. I know there is usually all this dry bowl/wet bowl/mix together stuff, but when you are soaking the flour in advance, everything starts out wet, pretty much. The important thing is to add dry ingredients slowly as this will prevent them from clumping together. This is extra important with baking soda. I often sift baking soda into the mix to make sure it isn't clumping.

4. Once all other ingredients are fully mixed together, fold in berries.

5. Pour batter into two loaf pans. Cook on 350 until tester comes out clean. This will take somewhere around 1 hour 15 minutes.

What I'd do differently next time: This bread was good, but there were complaints that it wasn't quite filling enough and it wasn't quite sweet enough. The latter problem can {obviously} be solved by adding more sugar, but I think doubling the amount of berries would be just as effective and much more healthy. A couple options for making it more filling is to pack it with protein, a habit I have with my breads in general. Replacing about 1/4 cup of the rice flour with almond meal would be a good start. Alternately, I might have taken 1/4 cup of walnuts and ground them in a coffee grinder, simply adding them to the batter before folding in the berries. I have never noticed this throwing off a recipe. I wonder what it would taste like to add the almond meal and the walnuts? Hmmm...

Did any of you do any baking last week?

10 March 2008

Weekend Review

We had a lovely, simple weekend. It actually started on Friday, when my mom declared she wanted a morning with the children and would I mind leaving them and going to have lunch {alone!} with my husband?

Um. Twist my arm!

So Si and I had a lovely meal at someplace other than Baja Fresh.

I made it a point to eat something containing gluten and preservatives. It was great.

Friday night, however, was less than ideal. This was because of...

The Movie

Sometimes, we choose good ones. And sometimes, my parents choose the movies. Just kidding. They occasionally choose good ones, too. I really thought this had potential, but I think it is because I expected an Old West sort of film, and this was not really it. I also expected action when it was quite slow.

Oh. And I expected Casey Affleck not to be creepy, but he was ultra creepy.

Needless to say, I wish we had read a book instead. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, I suppose.






The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford

2 out of 5 stars


The movie was slow. The plot was not compelling {to me, anyhow}. There was gratuitous vulgar talk among the men. We skipped something else that was inappropriate, too. By a little over an hour into the movie, neither of us had gained enough interest, and so we turned it off...and went to bed early.

The Food

I had mentioned in my weekly meal plan that we were having lentil burgers this weekend. What I didn't mention was that we have never eaten these before and it was new to us. Well, we ate them.

And it was good.

They don't stay together quite as well as meat patties, so it was sort of like eating a sloppy joe in that regard, but they were tasty, even to a picky pregnant lady like myself. I calculate that eating lentil burgers instead of ground beef burgers {especially since the recipe makes two meals rather than one} saved me four dollars!

Take that, grocery bill!

The Book

Si and I have been reading through Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Um, can you say beautiful? I typically avoid modern novels {anything written after, oh, 1930 or so} because I don't like them. The newer the book, the worse the writing.

But, like all broad brushstroke statements, there are exceptions. I knew when Cindy sang its praises, it'd be worth reading. So I put it in my PaperBackSwap wish list and forgot about it. And then, I got that charming little email they send: Wish Granted! This means the book I asked for six months ago is now available, all for me!

Once it was on its way, Wittingshire posted some praises for the book, and that was when I was sure I would love it. And we have not been disappointed. I, especially, am in love.

After all, this is a book written by an author that not only is quite the master of her craft {especially for a first novel}, but understands readers that truly love to read.

Reading aloud on a Saturday night? Priceless.

The New Park

I would be remiss not to mention that our park, which has burned to the ground twice, was once again restored this past week. We went at dusk last night for a last-minute frisk and, overall, it passes the test, even though I think the former toys were far superior to the new ones. There were no complaints from the children {other than that the slide was bumpy}, and it is nice to know that the park is, once again, what one would think of when one hears the word park.

Monday Report

Since I'm already being so self-indulgent, I might as well carry on until the end. This morning, bright and early, the children's great-grandfather joined us for a walk. Then, he brought out some plants and helped the children with the garden.

We now have two kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, and a watermelon out there!

The children were ecstatic {as was I}, and we topped the day off with a nice lunch with my mom at {where else?} Baja Fresh.

I love homeschooling. Spontaneous gardening with even the youngest members. Intergenerational living.