30 December 2009

Term Two Planning Notes

It's that time again! I told Siah last night that I spend my vacations planning what I'm going to do when I'm not on vacation. I am only partly kidding. But I'm not just planning lessons. No, no, no. December is busy for us, and we have a certain little girl turning three tomorrow. I might have been working for a couple days, but the weekend is supposed to be {mostly} all play.

Except that someone has to make the cake and host the party, and I suppose I will have to be the one to do it. Thankfully, my wonderful sister-in-law is coming to help me.

Ahem.

What's New and Different This Term

If you follow my Teaching Reading with Bob Books blog, you know that the biggest change this term is that Neighbor M. is going to commence learning at home with her own mommy. If you want to know about that, read about it on TRWBB.

The important thing to mention in regard to lessons is that though I am losing a student, I am really gaining two students. Both of my girls are ready for more. A. began formal reading lessons during the last week of DecemberTerm, and Q. is ready for playing with letter puzzles together. Instead of clearing out my lessons-with-Neighbor-M. time slots for myself and my coffee, I'm putting in special times alone with the girls for these purposes.

I did something new during my manners planning this time. {By the way, I have a very broad definition of manners, something along the lines of "proper Christian behavior"--I could call it "moral instruction" but I like that manners is plain and simple and allows me to add in things like "lower the toilet seat."} I decided to plan it so that the Scripture, manner, and poem all have a common theme. I'm not sure I'm going to point that out to the children, though. I want to see if they make the connections themselves.

Speaking of poems, I am going to switch to reading one poem daily for a week, instead of a new poem each day. We did this during DecemberTerm, and I realized that they absorb so much more at that slower pace. So I flipped through my book and picked some favorites and we'll try it for a term and see how it goes.

Also important is that A. is about to drop her nap, this time for real. I'm probably only going to nap her a couple days per week, which means she will be awake during Quiet Time. This puts me, first of all, in a training mode, acclimating her to what is expected of her when she is up during this time. But it also gives me a chance to share a cup of tea with her and assist her with her first handicraft. She received a pint-sized weaving loom for Christmas.

Another addition is formal grammar lessons for E. This is earlier than planned, but he is ready, so here we go. He is also hitting the logic stage really early, and trying to reason with his mother. Thankfully, I just pull the Because-I'm-the-Mommy Trump Card and he leaves me alone.

I hate it when he's right. How it is possible that I'm wrong and a seven-year-old is right is almost unfathomable, and yet he really does catch me being illogical sometimes.

How irritating.

Ahem.

As I was saying, we're starting formal grammar. I have no idea if we'll really be doing this daily. We're just going to try it and see what happens. I look forward to the day when I can make oral grammar lessons a part of Circle Time, but since my Circle Time is populated with mostly non-readers, it's not a good fit right now. So we'll have a short lesson before Quiet Time to give him something to think about in the afternoon.

Other changes may include the addition of weekly swimming lessons into the schedule. I don't usually have weekly commitments, but the children received Christmas money to pay for the lessons, and I'd like to see them advance in anticipation of summer. We have three or four solid swimming months here, and I intend to enjoy them this summer, barring any unplanned hospital stays like last summer.

This is also the first time I've done any deliberate, formal handicrafts. I'm excited about them, and I think my children will thrive having them as a part of their life. We want them to have rich lives, no? I really do think this is an important part of that.

Average Day Chart for Term Two

This chart includes some bumper time so that if I get behind in one place, or we start late, we will still end up with Quiet Time in the afternoon. For those of you who are wondering, even though my son does his math worksheets alone, I check them and work with him until he comprehends what he is doing. If he needs coaching, we fit that into Quiet Time. I often find that my unavailability is what encourages him to really try and figure it out himself, something that he enjoys when he is able to conquer a problem alone.

Here is the chart:
Average Day Chart 2009-2010 (2)


Circle Time Schedule

Here are my weekly Circle Time plans. I think we'll actually finish up with Little Pilgrim's Progress before the end of the term, and if I'm right about that, then we'll begin reading the real thing. If you notice, I'm using the Ambleside/Charlotte Mason model, but not really the Ambleside artist or songs suggested for this term. I wanted an artist that {1} was easier for art narration and {2} was dated before 1600 so that we could put him on our timeline. As far as hymns go, my goal is to teach the children the hymns our family and church sing regularly before branching out. In order to teach them well, it usually takes me the entire term {Ambleside is one per month}. Also, with folk songs, I was just in the mood for something Celtic. I adore Celtic music, and the children do, too.

Anyhow, here's the schedule:

Circle Time Weekly Schedule 2009-2010 Term 2


Resources
Here is what we're using this term that is not Ambleside-specific:


29 December 2009

Idealism and the Ideal Type

Since I'm supposed to be planning Circle Time for Term Two...and also our New Year's Eve party...and also our daughter Q.'s third birthday party, I thought I'd try and conquer something really abstract and complicated. This sort of thing gives me something to think about once I finally buckle down and do what I'm supposed to be doing.

Ahem.

The other day, I accidentally posted When the Thing Itself is the Reward before I was done perfecting it. After thinking about it, I still agree with myself. However, comma, ideally {ha} I would have posted this post first. Of course, I'm saying this not knowing if I would have thought to do it, because the helpful comments I received on my accidental post are part of why I'm writing this.

Realistic Idealists

I tend to be an idealist. I know this about myself, which is helpful. There is probably no more annoying person than someone like, oh, say, my younger self: an idealist who doesn't completely realize it.

I have been attempting to become what I like to call a realistic idealist. Though this might seem like an oxymoron, I think this is actually a healthy balance: dealing with actual reality while not losing sight of the things which can be, which possibly should be.

This is, to my mind, refusing to forget what light is when we find ourselves surrounded by darkness, while also acknowledging that even though the sun is best, a flashlight will sometimes have to do, especially if it is night.

With this said, sometimes I rattle off these idealistic posts without reminding myself to label them as such. That is an important step to skip. How might we connect the ideal to reality if we forget to distinguish between the two?

That is a bit of what I hope to tackle during my procrastination post today.

The Christian Classical Ideal

Classical education has been dominated by what is often referred to as the Ideal Type. David Hicks devotes an entire chapter {The Tyrannizing Image} to the Ideal Type in his book Norms and Nobility. Hicks explains
The ancient student of the Ideal Type...started out with the dogma of a moral ideal called kalokagathia--a man both beautiful and good.
Now, Hicks explains that this Ideal Type preceded Christ. In fact, I became confused about Hicks' relationship to Christianity due to some of what followed in the paragraph, such as this:
Any rival ideal would have met with sheer incomprehension, as Saint Paul discovered on Mars Hill.
As a Christian, I would say that this is the obvious nature of Christ as a stumbling block. He is the ultimate Ideal Type, the real and actual Ideal Type, but the Jews couldn't stand that He didn't conquer the Romans and the Romans couldn't stand that He'd wash someone else's feet, meaning that the Ideal Type of classical antiquity, as well as the Jewish ideal, did not match up with the real, true Ideal Type.

However, the fact that the classical Ideal Type was deficient in that it did not accurately comprehend man or what God designed a mature man to look like, that it failed to acknowledge Christ's kingdom when it was inaugurated, does not negate the concept of an Ideal Type in general. Hicks explains that the Ideal Type
is an aprioric necessity of human existence, a concomitant of human life, prescribing for all time the standard by which men shall judge themselves and others.
Our modern world, however, has almost entirely discarded the Ideal Type. Many in our culture would be tempted to declare the Ideal Type to be "not fair." Though we know instinctively that all of us fall short, that none of us can actually attain perfection, there is a very real sense in which some of us will come closer than others.

Classical Idealism: Tension with Academic Grading

I mentioned in my post that I have rejected the concept of grades {meaning A, B, C, etc.--not first grade, second grade, etc.}. This is a philosophical position, and I believe that my state will require me to assign grades when the children are older. My current position does not mean that the children will not have feedback. But my approach here lends itself to mastery and excellence, talking through a project along the way until we attain something of quality, keeping in mind the individual child's natural potential.

On a personal note, I was the type of person stopped by grades. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back, I think I see this clearly. Achieving high grades was easy for me the majority of the time. It required very little real exertion on my part. Because of this, I failed to imagine all that I might learn, and I contented myself with the minimum I could do, which was the modern "A." Had I been in school earlier in the century, I would have had to work harder. {A's have been "dumbed down" over time.} But as it was, I spent my time jumping through hoops and doing what I was told, but never really took flight in my intellectual growth until I encountered higher learning.

The biggest gift my father gave me in sending me to college, besides purchasing a very expensive husband, was to send me to a place with enough imagination that I began to love learning for its own sake, and not for the grade alone. Because of this, my learning finally went deep into the subject at hand, rather than remaining at the level of shallow performance. This had only happened one other time in my prior thirteen years of formal education.

Grades are essentially a replacement for the Ideal Type. They symbolize rejection of a timeless absolute. Hicks discusses this near the end of his chapter:
The Greek doctrine of the Golden Mean prescribed man as he ought to be--physically poised, mentally balanced and rounded off, thoughtful in action and active in thought: the living embodiment of the Ideal Type. The modern mean, on the other hand, defines the individual as he is in relation to a statistical point. The Golden Mean was a dynamic principle; the modern mean is a static one. Ancient man strove to fulfill in his person the Golden Mean and was rewarded with rare moments of fleeting achievement; modern man, however, is always at--or so many points off--the modern mean.

Education's graduation from a Golden Mean philosophy to one of statistical mean is not yet complete. Despite our failure nowadays to agree on a Golden Mean, the demands of the Ideal Type persistently tug at our hearts. These we dismiss as subjective longings for some bygone era. We quiet these urges by reminding ourselves of how psychologically damaging and undemocratic a Golden Mean philosophy is to the student who must endure the tensions of constant self-denial and self-control in pursuit of the Ideal....How much easier and safer it is to adopt the philosophy of the modern man. Judging the student against what he is or against what his peers are, after dividing them up by their number, seems far less arbitrary and demanding. What could be more democratic and less controversial? How could a student fail to measure up to what he is? Unfortunately, however, the statistical mean is a solution with mathematical--but not human--efficacy.

The Ideal of Love

Now that we've established this concept of the Ideal Type--which is revealed to us not by Homer, but by Christ, and which is accessible to us, in varying degrees, not by our own efforts, but as a gift of the Spirit--I will discuss my post. If I had written this post first, then I could have started off that post, as a subsequent post, with the acknowledgement that an important aspect of the Ideal Type is that it is motivated by love. For instance, I believe in doing one's duty, but I think the ideal motivation for performing said duty is love--love of God who created the order around which duty revolves, and love of the object to whom one is being dutiful. To bring this home to the world of education and learning one's lessons, I believe in teaching grammar and I believe grammar is best learned when one appreciates it--loves it--for what it is.

Idealism Meets Reality

In the comments of my original post, GretchenJoanna said something very wise:
There can be value in a system that builds good habits, even if the system is not adequate to maintain the habits long-term.
Sometimes, we have to be realistic about our children. If we have potty-trained enough children, for instance, we know that some children just aren't that interested. And some of these disinterested children are not interested even when they should be, when it is age-appropriate for them and they have shown every sign of capability.

Some children have to be pushed out of the proverbial nest.

So though it is wonderful to have a child that relishes maturity and loves it for itself, some children, especially in the area of skills like this, do not love or appreciate the skills until they have already mastered them. This is why I don't feel one ounce guilty over the bribery I use in potty training {though I did feel guilty when I once prolonged it longer than was necessary or helpful}.

Which brings us to the point: sometimes we will use a means other than love--be it a bribe or praise or a reward--to help the child get a taste for the thing at hand. Once they have the taste, our job is to wean them from the means and help them grow into the love for the thing itself. In the world of potty training, as GJ said, treats may be a good way to help build a habit, but not a good way to maintain the habit.

Clearing the Landscape

Because each of our children falls short of the Ideal Type in unique ways, we need wisdom in training them up. This is why, in my original post, I alluded to the idea that I intend to spend some time surveying the landscape and seeing what things distract my children from loving things for themselves.

I used this imagery because I think our modern world presents a unique problem of clutter. I want to consider, for instance, whether or not I have anything out there which is replacing love as a motivation. Am I inadvertently corrupting or distracting the hearts of my students?

I once met a family who paid their children to obey. I am not kidding. I think they believed that using this means was encouraging good habits in their children. They did not see what my husband and I saw, which was children who were becoming increasingly interested in their own financial gain. The parents thought they were tutoring their children in obedience, but instead the means of encouragement misdirected the heart into a love of money.

I say all of this knowing that I, too, could be blind. We pray for wisdom, that we may see what distracts from what is Good and True and Beautiful.

There is clutter everywhere. To bring it back to the topic of educating, we see this in elaborate lesson planning, where an idea, a beautiful, important idea, might be inadvertently drowned in a sea of cutting and pasting and songs to chant and pages to color and so on and so forth. None of these things are bad, but I often fear that in piling on so-called "busy work" there is much more lost than gained.

I could give a million examples, but they would all be personal, and this is the nature of education. We are teaching people. So we must know them intimately and clear the path according to the need. One family's busy work might be another family's treasured memory, truth be told.

However, comma.

David Hicks warns us not to dispose of the Ideal Type, which necessarily means slipping into a sea of relativism:
Relativism flourishes in a setting where appearances become tantamount to reality and where there is no longer any transcendent basis for judging one appearance as better than another.

Beginning with Me

GJ also made the important point that:
I think the most important way to cultivate proper affections in children is to do it in oneself.
The worst version of myself wishes there were a way to get around this fact. Hicks agrees with this, by the way:
The ancient schoolmaster in his intense struggle to achieve a living synthesis of thought and action exemplified this Ideal and passed it on to his pupils by inviting them to share in his struggle for self-knowledge and self-mastery, the immature mind participating in the mature. Against this Ideal were the master's achievements and his pupils' judged. All fell short, of course, but some--and here's the rub--far less short than others...[I]t is apparent that the greatest teachers still exhibit an Ideal in their speech and behavior and in their normative approach to learning. Their lessons spring to life in the moral climate surrounding them.
And later:
[The Ideal Type] adds enormously to the burden of being a teacher, who must struggle to embody the Ideal and who must take responsibility for cultivating in his students a sense of conscience and style both inside and outside the classroom.
What was it that Paul said?
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

I Corinthians 11:1
In regard to achieving the Ideal of love, I think that GJ is right on target. If our hope for our children is that they be abounding in love of all kinds, for a broad variety of ideas and tasks, we, too, must shake off the apathy and encounter the world with delight.

Which, for me, means I might have to clear my own landscape a bit.

28 December 2009

Incoming

Books are a gift-giving theme around here. My husband and I give them to each other. We give them to the children. Other family members give them to our children, especially our oldest son, who is himself an avid reader {I think it is genetic}. My husband and I are currently trying to figure out our library issues as far as shelving is concerned because we add so many books each year, especially at Christmas time and again for lessons.

I do try and weed books out via PaperBackSwap. I list any book I don't think we'll read again...unless of course we think it is worth lending out. Some one-time reads are still very much worth keeping for this purpose.

See? This is my problem. I am a book-a-holic bibliophile.

Alright, so here are all the incoming books {I think...a few may have wandered off already}. I love staring at book cases when I visit someone's home, so this is me letting you look at my new shelf, so to speak.


Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl:
Wide-Eyed Wonder in God's Spoken World




The Importance of Being Earnest:
A Trivial Novel for Serious People




The Penderwicks:
A Summer Tale of Four Sisters,
Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy




The Divine Comedy
{my pride and joy}



Fantastic Animals



Postmillennialism:
An Eschatology of Hope




National Wildlife Federation
Field Guide to Trees of North America




Mary Emma & Company



The Secret Garden



The Wind in the Willows



Gulliver's Travels



Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction



Farmer Giles of Ham:
The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles,
Lord of Tame, Count of Worminghall,
and King of the Little Kingdom




Away in a Manger



Voices of Christmas



The First Christmas Present



The Christmas Cat



Among the Pond People



The Nutcracker Ballet



The Snow Goose



Christmas for a Kitten



The Railway Children



The Princess Adelina:
An Ancient Christian Tale of Beauty and Bravery




The Big Snow
{a new favorite already...}



Thy Friend Obadiah


Some of these books are duplicate copies. We love duplicate copies. I have read stories of home educating mothers looking on with horror as their grown children pillage the family library by claiming ownership of certain books. In anticipation of this problem, I {1} make sure that each book belonging to a child has their name in it {all other books are mine, mine, mine!} and {2} thoroughly enjoy when a child receives a copy of a classic to own themselves. This is the easiest way to decrease the chance of them attempting to take my copy. There is also a third way: {3} keep all favorite copies in a locking cabinet.

Ahem.

We had extra blessings this Christmas, completely on accident. I always have an ongoing wishlist on PBS, but if we reach Thanksgiving and I haven't gotten any matches, I go ahead and order one book per child. Well, this year we hit Thanksgiving, and...no good matches. So, I went ahead and ordered. About a week later, I began getting match after match until I ended up being able to add another book for each child {well, all but the baby, but he likes boxes best anyhow}. This never happens, and it was so fun to surprise the children with two books each.

The Dante is mine. I think I will keep it by my bedside so I can stare at it while falling asleep. I first read this when I was 16 and I didn't even understand it, but I loved it. Good memories of this one, and the embossed leather binding was perfect for my display case {what a good husband}.

Did you receive a special book for Christmas?

26 December 2009

When the Thing Itself is the Reward

In October, I potty trained our daughter Q. I mentioned around that time that a friend of mine had encouraged me to throw out diapers even during sleeping times from Day One. And, we had early success with that, which was very exciting. Around the time I announced our "success" {there is a reason I put it in quotes}, another friend commented on the post and asked what I would have done if we'd had continual failure night after night.

Well, we had some regression recently, so now I'll tell you the truth about what we have actually done, not just speculation.

I tried at first to just change the sheets. I required her to help as much as she could because that is part of growing up in this area of life. But when she wet the bed five nights in a row, I started to reconsider the idea of daily changing sheets or bed pads or whatever became wet during the night. Also, we were still offering rewards for nighttime dryness {one or two chocolate-covered nuts}, and I wondered if this was effective.

My prayer for my children in general is that they will learn to love the things I am trying to teach them for the their own sake: not because they get a piece of candy, or a high grade {this is why I don't do grades}, or even praise. In fact, this is why, in addition to all my other angst, I have angst concerning my children participating in Awana.

*tangent alert*

Awana encourages children to memorize Scripture by having them earn patches for their club vest, candy, points for their team, and also "Awana Bucks" that they can spend at the club store on trinkets. On the one hand, I am content with their participation for reasons unrelated to this, but, on the other hand, I fear for the souls of children {including my own} who are trained, even for a short time, to see something other than God's Word itself as the reward when memorizing Scripture.

I think of these Scriptures:
Your word is very pure,
Therefore Your servant loves it.

Psalm 119:140
And:
O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.

Psalm 119:97
I have seen my oldest child begin to memorize a passage of Scripture, on his own, just because he loves something about it. Maybe he found it interesting or beautiful to the ear. He has done this with poetry also; something catches his attention and in the weeks to come he'll be chanting little snippets to himself while he does his chores or while he plays.

The difference in attitude has been interesting to me. When he is memorizing something Good because of love, he seems a different person than when he is trying to earn points or patches or whatever else he thinks he'll get out of it.

I see this also in my own experience. There is a difference between trying to earn the grades in school, and truly seeking wisdom. Grades almost completely short-circuited that for me. There is also a difference in the pride that comes from good grades and praise versus the humility which comes from a having a truth revealed to the heart.

To bring this back to potty training, it just happened that my daughter saw the thing itself {being a Big Girl, as she puts it}, as the reward. I would like to say I know how to make this happen, but I don't. It came from somewhere deep inside of her. She decided to grow up.

Concerning the situation of wetting her bed, when I realized this I told her that she was going to have to wear a Pull Up at night. I just couldn't change sheets day after day. But then I told her that if she could stay dry three nights in a row, she could go without a Pull Up again. Her eyes lit up: this was what she wanted! She didn't want candy, or even praise. She wanted to take her place in the land of Big People.

So she has worked at it. Whenever she wets the bed, we go back to three days of Pull Ups, and she disciplines herself to get back out of them.

I keep praying that God will show me how to arrive at this place in every area. This is really one of the biggest differences between mere schooling and real education. In one, the student works through a system and earns merit along the way, the final merit being the diploma. In the other, the student pursues truth and graduates as a different person from when he began the process.

So the question is how do we do this? How do we help order the affections of our children?

The answer, or the beginning of an answer, lies in learning to identify the things which distract the child from loving the thing {whatever it is} in proportion to its worth and then removing those distractions from the landscape.

I have recently begun reading Umberto Eco's Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages. The first chapter is titled The Medieval Aesthetic Sensibility. In his second point of the chapter, he discusses a twelfth-century campaign against "superfluous and luxuriant art in church decoration." The Cistercians and Carthusians both were up in arms over the pomp of the church buildings.

Now, what is really interesting is the rationale for their objections. They were not, according to Eco, objecting to decoration or luxury in general. However, they objected to it inside the church building proper because:
[it] merely distracted the faithful from their prayers and devotions...It was attacked just because of its powerful attraction, which was felt to be out of keeping with the sacred nature of its environment.
To lift this objection and apply it to learning: we adults {based on a Darwinian view of the child, by the way}, assume that children have no natural love of learning or wisdom or goodness, even Christian children who the Bible clearly declares holy. Therefore, we introduce bribes of various forms.

We think we are doing them a favor, that this is the only way they will learn anything or grow in any virtuous direction. And in the process, we compromise their souls, for we are, through our own actions, training their affections to love physical reward more than they love what is good and true and beautiful.

It is my habit to use reward when teaching physical skills, such as potty training. I also use praise. But seeing that it is possible for the child to learn to love maturity more than reward has been eye-opening for me. Even in skills, we see there is something worth loving for its own sake.

This is the time of year when I start to reflect on the year behind us and ponder the year in front of us. If I could work at one thing this year, I think it would be training the affections. I say this knowing that this isn't a simple thing to do. But I want them to graduate from childhood with hearts full of love, and I don't mean this in a warm and fuzzy sort of way. I mean in a passionate, full-of-care sort of way. I want them to care, in a knowledgeable, passionate way, and with appropriate proportion, about a poem and about a sunset and about history and about mathematics and about the God above them and the men around them and the earth beneath them.

I am reminded that God rewards His people. In Revelation chapter 4, we meet the twenty-four elders who are sitting on thrones and dressed in white and crowned with golden crowns. If anyone has attained reward, it is these men. And yet here is where we have the most beautiful glimpse of well-ordered affections I can think of {emphasis mine}:
And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."
And so we see the reward is nothing when compared with Him.

24 December 2009

Merry, Merry Christmas


The Mystical Nativity by Sandro Boticelli


It Came Upon a Midnight Clear by Edmund Sears

(final verse)

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

22 December 2009

Dickens' A Christmas Carol

The children and I {E., Neighbor M., A., and Q.} finished up reading Dickens' Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, again this year. It is always remarkable to me that children love this story. Because I perceive it as a ghost story, I expected the children to be fearful, but instead they accept it as a unique way that Scrooge "learned his lesson" and they rejoice to find Scrooge a changed man in the morning.

I know there are many portrayals of this work. I remember seeing a lively melodramatic stage version when I was a child. There are also cartoon versions and movie versions and so on and so forth. But reading the actual work is a thing apart. There are so many little lessons ready to change the reader's heart, if the reader allows. I think, for instance, of this conversation early in the story:
"Nephew!" returned the uncle, sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest."
Scrooge's nephew knows a secret our modern world does not: there is a type of profit which is not financial.

This is built upon when the first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, reveals the delightful Christmas celebrations of the Fezziwig family {Scrooge having been apprenticed to Mr. Fezziwig in his youth}:
"A small matter," said the Ghost, "to make these silly folks so full of gratitude."

"Small!" echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said:

"Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?"

"It isn't that," said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. "It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quites as great as if it cost a fortune."
Do you see? The theme is continued: there are intangible delights in this world which cannot be quantified. And yet there is more here. One could think for a week on this passage. Why, herein lies the power of the mother, of the husband, of the corporate boss, of the business owner. Those in authority have the power, lying in a million small details, to render happiness to those beneath them.

That is a powerful thought. Surely our service to Christ demands consideration of this fact.

We see again, the profit of the intangible, when the Ghost of Christmas present reveals to us the nature of the celebration of Christmas in the home of the impoverished Cratchit family:
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker's. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time...
Underlying all of this is the ironic state of the soul of Scrooge. There is a constant acknowledgment that brute logic would have us believe that riches make a happy Christmas. Scrooge should be the happiest of all, and yet he is the one whose heart is completely untouched by Christmas.

Of course, Dickens is here only affirming the words of Christ:
Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:23
Keeping Christmas, as Dickens said so long ago, is nothing less than the joy of a rich soul {not a rich pocketbook} overflowing.

19 December 2009

The Darndest Things: Four-Year-Old's Perspective on Football

My daughter A. watched a few minutes of football with her great great {yes, two greats} aunts and uncle and great grandma today. She is mesmerized by football. Later, when we got home, she was talking again about how much she likes football, so I thought I'd ask her why.

Her reply?

"I like it when the men fall down and tickle each other after one of them gets the ball. That's funny."

18 December 2009

Weaning Mommy

Usually, it is the baby who has to be weaned. We wean them from nursing, or pacifiers, or thumb-sucking, or blankies, or co-sleeping, or whatever it is that floated Baby's boat at six months but is anathema at age seven. However, I have encountered a situation in my home that is requiring some weaning.

From me.

For most of our marriage, there has been a crib near my side of the bed, filled with some little bundle or other, gurgling happily. When they get older, they throw toys overboard, which is cute in its own way. It is ironic that I have become attached to this because, when we were younger and poorer and lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and there was nowhere for Number One to lay his head except in our room, I had a heart of resentment.

But, lo and behold, when Number Two was born, and we lived in a real house with multiple bedrooms, her crib found its way into our room before she was even born. And so this was our tradition with each subsequent child.

But now we have come to the end of things, and Number Four is officially the longest resident of our room Ever. With every other child, I was pregnant by the time I moved them out, so it wasn't a big life changing event.

But now it is.

Saying goodbye to the crib and our little roommate is saying goodbye to an entire chapter of our life.

I have been putting it off. Certain people who shall remain nameless have been nagging me about it and then shaking their heads in pity when I tell them just a little longer.

But this week I realized it was time. For the first time, I woke him up on accident not once, but twice. He's a good sport, sits up in bed, gives me that irresistable sleepy smile. But the point was made: being here is no longer a comfort for him. It is a disruption. He is here for me, not vice versa.

So, come New Year's, we'll be moving the crib out. I won't know what to do with the empty space in our room, but I'm thinking my rocking chair will fit nicely there for now. I'm glad they are growing up and out. They should. But no one ever warned me about the empty spaces they leave behind.

17 December 2009

A Homemade Christmas?

When most folks think about homemade Christmas gifts, they think brightly knitted scarves or painted cookies or glittery Christmas ornaments. I don't know how to knit {yet}, but in the past years I've done my share of Christmas gift inventing. One year, women received jars of papaya chutney and men received three dozen homemade turkey breakfast sausages. My mom received the special bonus of "papaya pepper."

Did you know that, if you do it right, the seeds of the papaya can be used as a substitute for black pepper that is enzyme-rich and actually aids in the digestion of meat? How cool is that?

Ahem.

This year, we gave a couple of our favorite people the gift of thinking. I can tell you this, because these particular people do not read my blog.

So, how does one give thoughts to other people? Well, we came up with an idea that I hope will be successful. I'll use an example of one particular recipient. We chose theological issues in which this person was interested. Then, we chose two or three opposing views on the issue that were still within the realm of orthodoxy. Then, I used some handy sources, such as SermonAudio, Grace to You, etc. to find MP3 downloads of sermons covering the issues from the various preselected viewpoints.

So, for instance, if you have a person in your life who is interested in eschatology, finding three sermons on Revelation 20 {one postmillenial, one amillenial, and one premillenial} from respected speakers will give them food for thought.

Most of us don't actually explore the opposition {whoever they are} from the opposition's viewpoint. Now, saying such a thing could get me into trouble if I used that broadly as an excuse for dabbling in whatever I was interested in.

However, if I stay within the bounds of orthodoxy when I say this, I end up having a lot more respect for those with whom I disagree. In fact, I might even decide I'm wrong.

This has happened to me before. I am a recovering dispensationalist, as I have mentioned before.

Ahem.

Thought and growth are often forged in the fires of disagreement. That is what I love about blogging as compared to journalling. I have always written, but what I never had before blogging was someone else poking holes in what I was saying. The Bible speaks of iron sharpening iron, and I believe that would happen much more readily if we didn't all lock ourselves in isolation over nonessentials.

So.

Christmas.

This Christmas we are giving a few of those we love the chance to explore some possibilities. We do this with love, knowing that when we have done this, our knowledge of Scripture grew, for when we disagreed with someone who knew the Bible better than we did, we had to meet that challenge by finding out what the Bible actually said about the subject. We do it for fun, because we know they will enjoy learning something new.

16 December 2009

Education for the Freeman

Cindy wrote another of her brilliant ramblings on education. You can read it here: My Wee Free Man. My blog, incidentally, is called Afterthoughts for a reason. I am not an original article. I simply adore thinking other people's thoughts after them. Cindy is someone I have been thinking after for many years now. If it were not for her, I would be recreating a school in my home, and nothing more.

And I wouldn't know much about the liberal arts and how and why they make one free.

So if you want to know these things, you simply must read Cindy's blog, and it is very unfortunate that her archives from years past are not available, but the future holds much promise.

With that said, Cindy writes:
And it occurred to me that Alex had spent his entire childhood around ideas. He has spent his entire childhood learning the nature of things. Alex had been raised a free man and already he is becoming just that. Is it just possible that homeschoolers don't fit into the classroom setting because they are the children of free men and not slaves?
And also:
I am distressed because Christian men should be free men and the liberal arts were designed for them. The liberal arts aren't even that difficult. They aren't a dog and pony show; they aren't rooted in Evolution. It is just this simple: The liberal arts begin with ideas not skills. Any slave can have skills.
And if you want to know more, go read the whole thing and think about it. Read the comments, too.

In the comments, Mystie and I asked Cindy to tell those of us with young children what we could be doing to encourage the freedom she spoke of. What does she, with all of her experience, think promotes freedom {outside of the liberal arts, of course, which we are already committed to here}.

And Cindy wrote a list: Homeschooling the Freeborn. A lot of it we already do because we've been reading about freedom and liberty and slavery for many years now. In fact, it didn't start with education at all, but rather my father handing me F. A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom over a decade ago.

That was when I realized that someone didn't have to be owned to be a slave. At least, not in a literal sense.

As I was saying, I went through Cindy's list, and I tried to pinpoint where I should attempt to improve what we are already doing. I like the core of what we have here--Ambleside, Circle Time, free afternoons--but that doesn't mean I think we will have ever "arrived" or that there aren't things we can do better.

So, this is what I think I will be working on in the future. Some of this was already planned, and some of it was in the back of my mind, the list having brought it to the front:
  1. Continue to educate yourself. I have been meaning to write a post called "The Inspired Mother." I just don't think that any teacher can offer an inspiring education without herself being interested in things, which is why the very original reason I wanted to homeschool was because I'd met one too many teachers who claimed they hated reading. That is not the mark of an educated person, and it certainly isn't the mark of an actual teacher.

    This advice of Cindy's closely matched the advice Andrew Kern had given me on his blog when I asked him about teaching grammar. I asked for a curriculum; he told me to go learn the subject and then teach it organically.

    The biggest barrier to attaining the sort of freedom that Cindy is talking about is going to be our own ignorance. I say "our" because most of us, including me, were educated in the public schools, and it is hard to even begin to comprehend how different this experience was from how free men were once educated. I took me two years of reading just to get to the point where I could "get" that.

    Passing standardized tests and working for the grade and jumping from subject to subject does not predispose the teacher to attaining the model of education in Deuteronomy, where we walk and talk with our children. Being able to walk and talk implies a deep and living knowledge that very few of us have. And yet God was giving these commands to the average Joseph, not the leaders or priests.
  2. Don't be too impressed when your children perform parlor tricks. I am completely in love with my children, and have found that I need to constantly guard against this. In fact, I had to drop catechism with my oldest because I realized it had become just this: something to show off to grownups. We'll go back to catechism, eventually.
  3. Learn the names of the trees, flowers, birds, etc. We did this with birds, and this encouraged me to move on to trees. Flowers next year, perhaps?
  4. Ask your children questions and let them think. I am learning to wait for answers. I am amazed of what they are capable of when I give them more time.
  5. Write every day. My oldest child is just now old enough for this. Right now, he is working on little projects, like Christmas cards where he writes the messages. I hadn't considered making it a more formal part of our day. He loves to journal about his ducks, so I think that is where I could start with him.

Did you read the list? What are you going to change?

15 December 2009

Her First Reading Lesson

Yesterday was the big day. Last week, A. received her last little letter for her matching game. Then, we practiced the game for three more days, always remembering that next week, on Monday morning, A. would receive her very first reading lesson.

And she was so excited. Everyday she asked me if today was the day. She jumped up and down and wiggled and generally revealed that her entire self was full of joy over this new prospect.

On Monday morning, Neighbor M. had her regular reading lesson, and then I had all of the girls outside briefly to finish up snacks and give me a couple moments to prepare for A.'s lesson. I had forgotten about it over the weekend and hadn't yet gathered her binder supplies.

A. came in early.

Is it time? she wanted to know.

I told her it wasn't, that I still wanted to brew some coffee, but that she could wait for me on the couch if she wished.

And so she did.

Now, A. is my most emotional child. She is also a bit of a worrier. If I ever introduced anxiety into the learning process, I think she would shut down entirely.

So, as I was saying, she sat there. And as she sat, she began to think. And as she thought, she began to worry. And as she worried, she began to fret.

I saw her begin to physically collapse on herself, and she arched her back in a sort-of tantrum that was really more like physical distress.

Mom! she loudly whimpered.

Yes?

But I can't weed!

I know. That is why I'm going to teach you.

But what if I can't wemember? What if I don't do it wight? What if I forget the sounds, or say them wong?

My heart broke for her, and my mind flew into the future. I imagined all the numerous times I was going to be giving this child a pep talk. She doubts herself. She falters at the merest hint of criticism. You can do it! is going to be the theme of my relationship with her, I just know it.

And so that is what I said. You can do this, A...and I will help you. I know you'll be just fine.

All of her doubts had even convinced me. I planned a much easier first lesson than I had done with the confident Neighbor M. I planned for only reading two pages in the first book instead of four. I expected her to forget her sounds. I was ready to pick her up with failure.

And she completely blew me away.

She needed very little coaching. She remembered everything in a way that is uncommon for this scatter-brained child of mine. She flew through the two pages, so I added two more.

She did it.

And she loved it.

You did it! I said.

________________________________

Crossposted at Teaching Reading with Bob Books

14 December 2009

On Raising Boys

I had forgotten what it was like to have a little boy. My almost-toddler considers it his mission in life to remind me. Every morning, I am convinced that he wakes up and says in his mind, "Hello, World! What sort of trouble can we get into this morning?"

He has, for instance, recently learned to push the step stool around the kitchen. {Remember, this child still only walks ten steps at a time.} He pushes it near the counter and then climbs up on the stool. And then he grabs whatever is close enough to be grabbed.

Forks.
Glass bowls.
Knives.

He prefers knives, actually. They are his favorites.

I have no doubt that he will relish learning to use a shotgun with Daddy when he is older.

When I do laundry, and the other children are helping, we put him in our play nook and hope he stays distracted while we complete our task. Between the four of us, we are pretty quick, but never quick enough. We hear him crawling around the corner; he crawls as loudly as possible.

E. shrieks, "Here comes O. the Undoer! Help, help!"

And then all of the children move double-time, trying their hardest. We whisk away all the stacks of freshly folded clothes, each of us putting them in their rightful places as fast as we can.

This is when he and I begin our race. He looks me in the eye, and I know what he is thinking.

I rush to put my stack away, and return in time to see him do the naughty thing I know he wanted to do. He has crawled upon the couch. On the back of the couch had lain a small pile of clothing to be hung. There he is, looking over the back, experimenting with the effects of gravity.

"Down!" he yells, throwing another of Q.'s dresses overboard.

And I tell him no. Again. And I discipline him for it. Again.

Next time, I make him sit in his bouncy seat while we work, and he glares at me for stealing his fun.

This week in church, Si suggested I bring him a toy. He has been struggling with being quiet during the singing, and now that he is older he is loud enough to be heard over the din. We all know that he gets loud because it is his usual nap time and he is always loud before naps, even in the sanctuary of his own home.

I, foolishly, grabbed the giant plastic spoon that our daughter Q. delightedly chewed on in many a church service at this age.

I forgot that such a thing is a weapon to a little boy.

The woman in front of me, who only three minutes prior had turned around and complimented me on a "lovely family" almost got a dose of reality. I realized just in time that he was not moving said spoon to his mouth, but rather getting ready to whack the sweet couple in front of us. I moved just enough that he hit the back of the seat instead.

I told him no, but then he whacked me, and so the spoon went back into my purse, and I made a mental note to bring a soft toy next time, if I brought a toy at all.

Instead of playing with toys, we went to the Cry Room ten minutes earlier than usual, and he was fast asleep in no time.

Being a boy is exhausting, he seemed to say.

13 December 2009

Her First Nutcracker

Two weeks ago, I informed A. that we were going to go see the Nutcracker this year. She had been playing with my miniature nutcracker which appears somewhere around the living room shortly after Thanksgiving and remains in place until January 2. That was all I said, knowing that questions would be forthcoming.

What is The Nutcracker?

What is a ballet?

Do I get to dance, too?


The questions went on and on, and it was a delight to answer them all and watch the anticipation build as she realized that this Nutcracker idea was pretty significant.

And then she asked another question: Can I wear my red dress? {Only it sounded like this: Can I wear my wed dwess?}

Mommy wasn't sure, so she asked around. There were four generations of us going: Great-Grandmother, Granmama, me, and A. The older three all concurred that the little one ought to wear The Red Dress.

Even though we were going out to eat.

He eyes were wide as saucers dessert plates when I told her.

And then our new routine began. Every morning, she sleepily asked me while she stretched her wake-up stretch if today was the day of The Nutcracker. And every day I said no and then told her how many days it would be until the answer was yes.

Yesterday morning, the answer was yes. She was dismayed, however, that I required her to eat breakfast in her pajamas before putting on said Red Dress.

The day was wonderful. On the way, A. and I talked about how a ballet is when a group of dancers tell a story without words; they use music and dance instead, and they show you the story.

She was so excited.

Will it be beautiful? she wanted to know.

I assured her it would.

The four of us took photos at my parents' house, went out to lunch (in the Wed Dwess!), and then made it to the auditorium at the perfect time. For two hours, we soaked in the most beautiful thing I have seen in a long time.

A. loved it; adored it.

She did, however, have some trouble with the fog machine during the dance of the snowflakes. She leaned over and whimpered, Mommy! The fire that make that smoke going to make me killed! It took a bit of convincing. She wasn't sure at first that she believed in the existence of fog machines.

What was your favorite part? I asked her.

The angels. The snowflakes. The beginning street scene when the girls were playing and the boys were throwing snowballs.

I dreamed about them last night, Mommy.

What part?

The little boy. And he was hiding. And it was funny.


She sighed, and I knew she was remembering how beautiful it was, too.


A. in her Wed Dwess,
first worn by Aunt C. in 1984

11 December 2009

America Alone {Post 1}

Si and I recently began reading Mark Steyn's America Alone, which was only on my PaperBackSwap wishlist for 1.5 years. {When it comes to getting the books I want, I have the patience of an ent.}

I'll be posting quotes as we go along. Let me just say from the outset that I like this guy. Anyone who uses Shakespeare's seven ages of man to explain a problem has my admiration.

I'm very curious whether I'm going to agree with this man all the way through the end. For instance, I completely agree that our culture bought into a bunch of eco-lies in the 70s {and again in the 80s and 90s, but I digress} that resulted in a poor birthrate. So we're agreeing on the definition of a certain problem. But whether we agree on exactly how we got there {for I trace it back beyond the eco-lies to the legalization of birth control which led to the legalization of abortion which led to children becoming a choice, even for Christians}, I wonder if we're going to agree on what should be done.

Lasting behavioral change is always preceded by heart change. We'll see if Steyn knows this.

Anyhow, the book itself is neatly divided into three parts. The first deals with the low birth rate I've already mentioned, and how this will combine with a welfare state to create a total implosion of culture. The second deals with the expansion of Islam, but not just any kind of Islam.

I am learning, by the way, to think of Islam the way I think of Christianity. What I mean is, there are three big branches of Christianity {meaning Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic--four depending on where you place the Anglicans}, and then there are branches of Protestantism {all the denominations plus all the independent churches and house churches and so on}. And then there are the cults {i.e., Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.--cult, incidentally, is here defined as a doctrinal straying from what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity and what many of us these days call the Essential Doctrines}.

So we can't just think, either, that Islam is Islam is Islam. With this as context, my understanding is that Steyn's concern is not necessarily the spread or growth of Islam as much as it is the spread and growth of the radical form of Islam known as Wahabiism, a spread that is globally financed by the nation of Saudi Arabia.

Or so Steyn says.

His third section is called "The New Dark Ages" and I really don't know what that's about yet. I couldn't quite put my finger on it when reading the Prologue, so I'll have to post about that when we get there. I'm not sure the first Dark Ages were really all that dark, but we'll go with it.

I was going to just post some quotes today, because I'm busy, you know, and I have truffles to make, but then a news article came across my Reader that was just irresistible: The real inconvenient truth: The whole world needs to adopt China's one-child policy. I think I have mentioned on and off here that the Green Religion is anti-child in every way possible, so much so that they will talk about a "one-child policy" while ignoring that inherent in the policy is forced abortions, forced sterilization, and a devaluing of females because it wants fewer children {women make children, understand?}.

China doesn't want people. It wants workers.

There is a neat little paragraph in this article that is a great way to begin my quotes:
China has proven that birth restriction is smart policy. Its middle class grows, all its citizens have housing, health care, education and food, and the one out of five human beings who live there are not overpopulating the planet.
Let's see what Steyn has to say:
The single most important fact about the early twenty-first century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States: Canada, Europe, and Japan are getting old fast, older than any functioning society has ever been and faster than any has ever aged.

{p. 2}
The progressive Left can be in favor of Big Government or population control but not both. The mutual incompatibility is about to plunge Europe into societal collapse. There is no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital--and that's before anyone invented unsustainable welfare systems.

{p. 3}
[D]emographics is a game of last man standing.

{p. 3}
What happened in the 1990s was what Yamada Masahiro of Tokyo's Gakugei University calls the first "low birth-rate recession." It's not the economy, stupid. It's the stupidity, economists--the stupidity of thinking you can ignore demography. Japanese society aged, and aged societies, by their nature, are more cautious and less dynamic: old people weigh exposure to risk more than potential for gain.

{p. 5}
The design flaw of the radically secularist Eutopia is that it depends on a religious-society birth rate.

{p. 12}
Just as America relies on the Chinese to make cheap Elmos and Poohs, so Canada relies on them to make cheap human beings--the children that domestic manufacturers in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere have concluded are prohibitively expensive to produce at home.

{p. 13}
Europe doesn't need an enemy; it's losing its own torpor.

{p. 48}
Steyn runs numbers and tell us that most European countries have birth rates that are so low, no culture has ever recovered from them before. I suppose we will see in our lifetime if history will repeat itself in this regard.

I think here in America it is hard for us to imagine that other countries are actually shrinking. Do we understand that Russia is emptying out? In his Prologue, Steyn says:
[T]he Muslim world's high birth rate...by mid-century will give tiny Yemen a higher population than vast empty Russia.

{p. xxix}
If a population is halving every generation, what makes us think there will be any economic growth?

And what does it mean for a culture? No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no brothers, no sisters.

No life.

This is the ultimate outcome of the Green Religion. It dreams of an Earth...without man.

10 December 2009

The Darndest Things: What 2-Year-Olds Say

I love having two-year-olds around. They are always saying funny things, and I find it fills our house with laughter to have one around. We are about to go into a drought of two-year-olds for a few months, so I am preparing myself for the giant hole in my heart which will ensue.

Ahem.

Anyhow, our current two-year-old thinks sneezes are called blessings.

So this week, after sneezing three giant sneezes in a row, she said, "These blessings are hurting my throat!"

The Darndest Things: The Dangers of Reading Aesop

We did last night what we do most every Wednesday night: we drove our two oldest children to Awana. And as we were driving along, we had this unexpected conversation:

A.: I'm cold!
E.: I'm freezing!
Me: I'm frigid.
Daddy {feeling silly}: I'm a donkey!
E.: You're an ass!
It was at this point that all of time stopped. My husband was flabbergasted, and I was doing all I could to control what had the makings of uncontrollable laughter. Si looked at me with questioning eyes, but I had to look away or I would have burst.

Si decides to take the scientific route, and try again to see what will happen:
Si {a little quieter than the first time}: I'm a donkey.
E.: You're an ass!
Hmmm...

Si decides in favor of one final attempt:
Si: Donkey.
A. {in her best four-year-old voice}: Ass!

09 December 2009

Quotables: America Alone


America Alone:
The End of the World As We Know It
Septermber 11, 2001, was not "the day everything changed," but the day that revealed how much had already changed.

{p. xv}
I wonder how many pontificators on the "Middle East peace process" ever run this number: the median age in the Gaza Strip is 15.8 years.

Once you know that, all the rest is details.

{p. xvi}
We are witnessing the end of the late twentieth-century progressive welfare democracy. Its fiscal bankruptcy is merely a symptom of a more fundamental bankruptcy: its insufficiency as an animating principle for society.

{p. xix}
[T]here is a correlation between the structural weaknesses of the social-democratic state and the rise of a globalized Islam. The state has gradually annexed all the responsibilities of adulthood--health care, child care, care of the elderly--to the point where it's effectively severed its citizens from humanity's primal instincts, not least the survival instinct. In the American context, the federal "deficit" isn't the problem; it's the government programs that cause the deficit. These programs would be wrong even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover them each month. They corrode the citizen's sense of self-reliance to a potentially fatal degree. Big government is a national security threat: it increases your vulnerability to threats like Islamism, and makes it less likely you'll be able to summon the will to rebuff it. We should have learned that lesson on September 11, 2001, when big government flopped big-time and the only good news of the day came from the ad hoc citizen militia of Flight 93.

{p.xx}

08 December 2009

Lessons from the Duck Flock

We've raised our ducks to full maturity, now. It is exciting times around here, with the flock laying half a dozen eggs per day, as long as they get enough protein. I thank the Lord daily for the man who owns the feed store, for it is he who taught me that protein is important for egg production, just as calcium is important for shell strength. Bugs and green growing things are what determines the vitamin and fat--and therefore the color--contained in the yolk.

I've learned a few things about ducks--and therefore about eggs, and raising food in general--in the past year. I thought I'd write them out in hopes that I actually remember them.

There Really is a Pecking Order

Our baby ducklings were so precious when they first arrived in their little box. I remember giggling as we picked them up at the Post Office. Their little chirping sounds made everyone there--the workers, and the others standing in line--smile a little bigger.

So I was horrified later to see that these sweet little creatures soon began to abuse one another. In fact, Boadicea is named after that famed queen of the Iceni tribe of Briton who, after her husband's death, led a tribal uprising against Rome. She was a strong woman, and so her name was fitting for the leader of our flock, who also leads in the absence of a male.

She's mean, and she keeps her flock in line. She is especially cruel to Jemima Puddleduck, who is at the bottom of the pecking order. Jemima must wait for her food for between ten and thirty seconds. She must not get into the duck pool without Boadicea's permission. If she asserts herself even a little, Boadicea bites her beak and holds it a while to let her know this is not allowed.

If you are curious about the order of the Order, Boadicea is the head of the flock, and her dear friend Rebeccah Puddleduck is always close beside her, allowed to do almost whatever she likes. Next come Lily and Bella, who are sweet little gals and seem to be "equals." Though Jemima Puddleduck is the very bottom of the barrel, Penelope is picked on occasionally, also, and is the second-to-last allowed in the pool.

Ducks are Messier than Chickens

This should have been a no-brainer, if I had thought about the nature of the bird, but I didn't, and I was shocked at how they could destroy a perfectly good area in no time flat. The secret to their destructive success is: webbed feet. When combined with their affection for water, the result is a big, muddy mess. I had never thought about how a chicken's delicate feet, with separate, individual toes, would make them cleaner, but now I see clearly.

I do not regret buying ducks; I think the experience has been a joy, and the children love having such unique pets. However, if we ever replace the flock, I can predict we try our hands at chickens instead.

Most Grocery-Store Free Range Organic Eggs are a Waste of Money

Now that I know the qualities an egg gains are dependent on the nutrient-content of the duck's menu as well as their health, I can tell you that there is no real difference between free range organic eggs and regular eggs I have bought at the grocery store. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have purchased standard eggs at the grocery store that were healthier than the free range eggs I have bought. I do not know if this is due to feed or health of the flock, or both, but it is true.

When I crack an egg from our flock, it feels a lot like breaking a boiled egg because the shells are so thick. I have never been able to fry eggs, always breaking the yolks when I flip them. However, our homegrown yolks are so strong that it is somewhat difficult to break them. As the birds eat more insects and graze on green grass and sift the dirt for small rocks, their yolks turn from pale yellow, to bright yellow, all the way to orange. The situation here is much like vegetables: the stronger and darker the color of the yolk, the more nutrient-dense the food.

I have never bought eggs from a grocery store--even the most expensive eggs the grocer carries--that come remotely close to rivaling what we get from our home flock. My advice to consumers is that if you do not see these qualities {i.e., dark, brightly colored yolks, tough shells, whites which hold together rather than spreading out all over the pan, yolks that are harder to break} in the eggs you are buying, do not waste your money on expensive eggs. Save a few bucks and buy the standard eggs.

I suppose there is a chance that antibiotic exposure is an issue, but I'm not sure I buy it. Ducks that are truly on grass will naturally gain these qualities, so "free range" on the label obviously does not equal what I'm doing at home. So I just doubt whether there is a lot of difference in the other areas as well.

Eggs are for Eating, Except When They're Not

Once, the children asked me how we knew we were supposed to eat the eggs, and I thought that was an interesting question. From what I have read in vegan literature, there are, within the vegan community, three camps. One avoids eggs because of the cholesterol or some other supposed "bad" quality of eggs. Another avoids eggs because they disapprove of the treatment of laying hens {such as de-beaking the birds} and do not have access to eggs from hens that are raised with love. A third group believes that eggs are supposed to become birds, and that eating them interrupts the natural process.

Our flock does not have a drake, which means that none of the eggs will ever be more than an egg. The eggs are a byproduct of the female nature of the ducks. However, even if there were a drake, the ducks are showing no sign of intent to mother said eggs. They have not built nests and they never sit on their eggs. They themselves regard the eggs as byproducts, and they have no qualms about eating the shells after we have used the insides. {This is the cheapest source of calcium I can provide for them.}

I respect the reproductive process, so if we had a duck that was displaying the desire to nest, I would encourage it. However, laying ducks, as a general rule, drop eggs as they are waddling around. They never intend to mother them. This is why Scripture speaks of egg consumption in the context of gathering abandoned eggs {c.f., Isaiah 10:14}. In fact, we are given instructions in the care of the bird life-cycle {and learn that it is acceptable to plunder a nest, by the way}:
If you happen to come upon a bird's nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.

-Deuteronomy 22:6-7
How does this prolong days? Um...let's just say if you eat both ends of a life cycle, there is nothing left to continue life. Birds are food and eggs are food, but eating the hen and the egg leaves nothing for tomorrow. To apply this at home, we take good care of our duck flock, and they take good care of us, in the form of eggs with a high-vitamin, high-good-fats {Omega 3}, high-cholesterol {builds growing brains, you know} food.

Bottom line: ducks dropping eggs while walking, never building nests, and never sitting on said eggs, do not intend to be mothers. The byproducts of their femininity, happily, are not wasted, but rather nourish humans, and also animals.

Grazing Ducks Must be Caged

When people think "free range" they think that these creatures are roaming all over and never see a cage. We do not do this at our home. The first and foremost reason is that the law in our zone states clearly that all fowl must be caged. But this is not the only reason. There is a wisdom behind keeping them caged.

Do you know the saying "like sitting ducks?" The connotation here is vulnerability, and it is very, very true. Ducks are vulnerable creatures, and if you want to keep a flock over the long term, you are going to have to keep a cage {or a good duck hound}. Noted enemies of our flock in the area are the three different dogs from the neighborhood who have a knack for breaking into our yard {one is a retriever, and retrievers do this nifty trick where they grab a bird by the neck and take it back to their owner}, a skunk {which would steal eggs and baby birds, but not full-grown birds}, raccoons {they would eat the ducks and eggs alike}, and also duck hawks {a.k.a. Peregrine Falcons}. Our ducks do not fly well, being bred to stay in one place and lay. Typically, a pond would be a good place of escape from land-based enemies, but all we have for them is a tiny baby swimming pool.

The cage we built is lightweight and covered with a tarp on one end to provide shade and shelter. It is bottomless, so that they have access to the ground, and it is mainly chicken wire, which means that insects easily enter the perimeter {they do not often exit; our ducks are good hunters}. The cage is on wheels, and is moved to new grazing areas two or three times per week, which gives the flock access to fresh growing grass {mainly fescue}, while keeping their manure from building up all in one place.

Their manure, incidentally, enriches the soil. They will spend some time over the winter living in my future berry patch to build up the soil there.

The phrase "free range" may give you visions of birds without cages. I suppose, if we kept a good eye on them {and it was legal}, we could do that during the daylight hours. But keeping our gals safe is a priority, and this cage gives them an ideal balance of freedom and protection.

Ducks are Stupid, Some Worse Than Others

Beatrix Potter invented her famous character, Jemima Puddleduck, by watching real, live ducks. This has become evident to me over time. Our ducks do not know what is good for them, and often do not even know how to get what they want. On the few occasions when they have escaped their cage, they show a desire to get back inside, but no inclination to identify, for instance, the open door, as having any qualitative distinctions from the wall of the cage.

They are also stupid in a frightened sort of way. They are incredibly nervous creatures, terrified of anything new. The first time I threw them an apple core, they stared at it for almost ten hours before tasting it. I think they believed it would bite them back! Turns out, they love apples, but it took three tries to acclimate them enough that they fought over cores the second one landed in the cage. The same even goes for a bucket of water. We caged them without their pool last night {long story}, and provided instead a bucket of water. Ducks need to be able to dunk their heads at any time. They feared the bucket for hours, and huddled in a corner of their cage, wondering, What is that white thing over there?

Taming Animals Takes Time...and Food

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and the same goes for animals. If you feed them, they learn to trust you over time. Our first ducks were tamer quicker than the current flock. Part might be the difference in breed, to be sure, but I think a likelier cause was my husband's hospital stay. Instead of he and I sitting up in the evenings holding ducklings in our laps, I was sitting up next to an unconscious man and the ducks were alone. By the time he was home from the hospital, they were all but completely wild.

However, after a couple months of a regular routine, they were quite tame, and now they know and trust us well.

Some Ducks do not Make Good Neighbors

Do you remember our first ducklings, Sam and Alex? They were wonderful birds, intelligent {for ducks} and very sociable. But they grew. And grew. And grew. By the time they were near the size of small geese, they had also acquired a loud, honking quack that echoed off every house in the neighborhood. I feared their hunger, which made them incredibly loud. When I went to feed them, they quacked so loud every dog nearby began to howl. One particular dog tried to jump the fence into my yard.

These ducks, sweet as they were, were not good neighbors. Si refused to butcher them for me {they were looking like meat ducks to me}, so they now live on a farm where they can live long and loudly. I know now why folks say that the Khaki Campbell breed is a good backyard duck: they are smaller and quiet and easy to please. Any lack in intelligence is easily made up by faithful egg laying and kindness to children.

Ducks Like Puddles

Um...Puddleduck. Need I say more? If it rains, the ducks throw a party. If they get out of their cage in the rain, E. and I end up in a muddy round-up, the ducks full of joy in their liberty to splash in puddles. This happened yesterday in freezing rain.

Food Keeps Animals Warm

I think I read this before we purchased animals, but I was still shocked when, as the temperature steadily dropped, their rations required steady increasing.

Ducks are Composters

These babies eat almost all of my kitchen scraps, turning them into fertilizer. Their favorite things are tomatoes {scarce, now that it is winter}, pear and apple cores, and cheese. Sometimes I feel guilty about feeding them cheese. Is that okay to do? I am undecided, but if they end up with some strange disease, I'll be sure and document that...