29 January 2010

Quotables: Passionate Housewives Desperate for God


Passionate Housewives Desperate for God:
Fresh Vision for the Hopeful Homemaker
Biblical motherhood means sacrifice, selfless love, and faithful dedication. It means we're there with our families--body, mind, and spirit. To recognize our purpose in motherhood, we must see the godly generations beyond our own children {Genesis 24:60, Deuteronomy 4:9, 7:9}. This means denying ourselves {Matthew 16:25} and being consumed with God and His love for us. It means starting each morning on our face in repentance and thanksgiving, pleading for His grace and for the strength to glorify Him in our daily endeavors. It means loving God more than we love our children--and consequently, He will equip us to truly love them and prepare us to serve them through Christ our Lord. It means impacting future generations by our faithfulness now.

{p.21}
Of course, much of the world would agree that being a housekeeper is acceptable as long as you are not caring for your own home; treating men with attentive devotion would also be right as long as the man is the boss in he office and not your husband; caring for children would even be deemed heroic service for which presidential awards could be given as long as the children are someone else's and not your own.

{p. 25}
Every home has a culture--either good or bad, whether by design or by default.

{p. 45}

27 January 2010

Benefits of Home Education {III}

Today, my son is not at home, and he's not "doing school" in the traditional sense of the word. He is with his great grandparents. My Suburban needed work, and E. did what he often does when I have car trouble: he rode along to the shop. You see, my grandfather may have retired from being a mechanic himself, but he still takes charge over my vehicle. He picks it up, takes it to the shop for me, and brings it home when the job is done.

And E. rides along.

Spending time with his great grandparents {and other relatives} has been a huge benefit of homeschooling. Without formal schooling demanding much of our lives and our schedules and our time and our energy, we are free to nurture the relationships that God has blessed us with.

Over the years, E. and Great Granddad have built a battery using a lemon. They have changed the brakes on my Suburban. They have repaired bicycle tires, replaced batteries, and inflated rubber balls.

Likewise, E. {and now A.} have spent much time with their granddad {my dad}. E. has begun to learn basketball {my dad used to be a coach}, and he works in their garden and does odd jobs around their house.

I often wish that Si's family could reap this benefit, too, but they live far away.

Their Gran teaches them to draw. Their Great Grandmother tells them stories about living in the Ozarks and attending a one-room schoolhouse. Their Granmama takes them for extra swimming lessons or bakes with them.

It's a list of little things, really. Little, but significant.

We moved here to be near family. No. I take that back. It was more than that. We moved here to be part of a family. To be part of something bigger than ourselves. To contribute to some of those to whom we are duty-bound.

But I could see how, if I had two in preschool and another in primary school, I'd be spending a lot of time in my car or in a classroom or running to and fro. And I don't do well juggling a lot of balls. You know what would slip through the cracks? People. The very people we moved here to be near and to love and be loved by.

So here we are on a not-so-normal school day. The lessons will be made up. For now, I sent along the knot-tying handicraft book. After all, Great Granddad was once a Boy Scout or some sort of scout. Maybe he can help the little guy figure some of it out.

26 January 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {Equivocating on Introversion?}

We define the intro/extrovert based upon an energy continuum. You're invigorated by being around people--you're an extrovert; you're drained by people and refreshed by alone time--you're an introvert. When we start to bring in "introvert" and "extrovert" characteristics like this:
Extroverts think and talk all at one time. It is effortless to them. In fact, things become clearer as they speak out loud. Introverts, on the other hand, need time to think and don't speak with spontaneity unless it's a familiar subject
we change the basis of the assessment. When we say an extrovert "thinks out loud", we're now talking about the way a person processes information or expresses it. I think this can be related to how one is energized/refreshed, but not causally.

--from a comment by Rahime
This comment is the perfect place to begin today's post, I think. I've almost completed my reading of Chapter Three, and I was thinking along the same lines, though I hadn't been able to draw this clear of a distinction. Thankfully, Rahime did this for us! Dr. Laney {our author} initially defines introversion, as well as extroversion, as opposite ends of an energy continuum.

In fact, she spendsmost of Chapter 2 defying the stereotypes. Introverts are not:
  1. Reclusive, retiring types {p. 38}
  2. Shy {p. 43}
  3. Schizoid {p. 44}
  4. Highly sensitive {p. 45}
  5. Self-centered {p. 46}
  6. Anti-social {p. 47}
Now, she doesn't mean that it is impossible for introverts to be any or all of these things, but rather than these things are not inherent in what is meant to be introverted. For instance, shyness implies a certain level of fear or uncertainty that both an introvert as well as an extrovert might have.

But Rahime made the perfect distinction here. How can we say that "introversion is not the same thing as shyness" or "shyness is not an absolute quality of introversion" and then, in the same breath, say that "introversion is the same thing as processing information inside of the mind" or that "processing information inside of the mind {as compared to processing it verbally} is an absolute quality of introversion?"

How can some of us say that we are introverts, but, when we are with intimate friends, we process our thoughts aloud? Does this mean we are not "true" introverts?

The Darwinian Anthropology

Chapter 3 gives us some insights into why the author is reasoning in this way. As I think about it, I actually think she is being consistent within her own worldview. In Chapter 3, the author equates introversion and extroversion to evolutionary adaptation. Our personalities, she says, are not unlike finches on the Galapagos Islands:
Darwin studied the finches on the Galapagos Islands. He found that in response to environmental demands, the birds had adapted and developed specialized beaks. The diversity of beaks allowed them access to different feeding niches. Instead of eating only insects, they could now eat a varied diet consisting of insects, berries, seeds, and nuts. This increased the entire species' chances for survival.

When Jung, an admirer of Darwin, first wrote about introversion and extroversion, it was clear that he was thinking about temperament from an evolutionary perspective. He saw each variation of temperament as requiring its own optimal environment, a natural niche where it could flower. Having people who thrive in different optimal environments increases the chances of survival of the human race as a whole. It is nature's way to preserve her species.
This is an important portion of the book, because it shows us where we part company with the author. While we look at introversion and extroversion, and see the creativity of God in making many different types of people for the purpose of glorifying Himself, Jung saw a species simply adapting to its environment for the purpose of survival.

Jung seems to be Dewey's equivalent in the field of psychology. Just as Dewey defined the student as an organism which needed to be taught to adapt to its environment, so Jung saw the 'verts. This means we must tread lightly. When Dewey redefined students in this way, the result was a redefinition of knowledge {there is none, only skills} and the beginning of the destruction of education in this country. It doesn't logically follow that Jung will have the same result, but there is cause here to pay attention.

The commonality is that Dewey and Jung are both using a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, view of man. Jung described how introverts are, rather than seeking what we call in education the Golden Mean or the Ideal Type. He does not ask the question of how we should be.

So is This About More Than Energy?

Unfortunately, it is about more than energy. But first, let's remember a something: the author is assuming a material definition of man. So far, there is no mention of man as anything other than an organism. There is no spiritual component to his being assumed. Based on this, if you are reading along, you will begin to notice the author making comments such as "this is how your brain is," "your brain is just that way," and "your brain works like this."

As Christians, we believe that man is a harmony of body and spirit. A human body without a spirit is dead; a human spirit without a body is naked. In Christianity, the soul, rather than the brain organ, is the seat of personality. And though, as we see in sickness, the functioning of the brain might change the personality, it is assumed by Christians that, with proper brain functioning, the personality would return to "normal" for that person. I saw this in two of my children, whose personalities were extremely affected by their food allergies. Erase the allergies, and suddenly who they are, who we all remembered them being, comes back into focus. The idea is that there is something intangible at the core of each person which, though it grows and matures, consistently is.

However, if we remove the existence of the soul/spirit from the conversation, man become an organism, a body ran by a brain and programmed by its DNA. Because of this, the author spends a lot of time in Chapter 3 tracing the thinking pathways {within the brain} of extroverts and introverts. She also spends some time discussing genes, focusing specifically on a gene called D4DR, which has been called "the novelty-seeking gene."

On the one hand, I find all of this fascinating. The intricacies of the body are amazing, utterly astounding.

However, comma.

Whenever we start talking DNA, there is typically a wandering away from the Ideal Type. If you are merely a product of your genes, then your genes, through the means of evolution, are dictating your behavior, and there is almost an evolutionary responsibility to follow the directions they give you. Whenever we erase the soul, we erase personal responsibility, morality, and cultural ideals.

So, to boil all of this down: this book may have began by defining introversion as merely an issue of energy. However, the term has now been equivocated upon. Using questionnaires based on the simple, energy-based definition, the brains of introverts and extroverts were studied, and found to be different. Once that happened, introversion was redefined as being one end of an energy continuum as well as having a brain which behaves in a certain way, because, for all practical purposes, within this way of thinking the brain is the person, the seat of the body's humanity.

We could almost write a syllogism:
1. The brain is the person.
2. Introverted brains behave in a certain manner.
3. Therefore, an introvert can be defined in terms of brain behavior.

Was that quite right? I'm not sure.

Ahem.

So Rahime identified the equivocation. In the Christian way of thinking, this is unjustified, regardless of interesting factors concerning brains {which may tell us something about many introverts, to be sure}. In Jung's way of thinking, the science is simply expanding the definition. Some expansions {like shyness} are unjustified based on the scientific studies, and others {like not processing thoughts aloud} are justified based on the scientific studies.

Different Types of Introverts

The author explains that it is a bit more complicated than getting a single picture of the brain. She says that maybe you are introverted, but some of this stuff just doesn't sound like you. The solution? Well...maybe you are a different sort of introvert. The author gives a list of characteristics which distinguish a right-brained person from a left-brained person. However, I don't think her list is specific to introverts. I found myself wishing she had a right-brained-introvert-specific list of characteristics. She did mention that left-brained introverts will feel more comfortable speaking in public than a right-brained introvert.

Another topic covered in this chapter is response to emergencies. Dr. Laney claims that extroverts are more likely to spring into action in an emergency, while introverts are more likely to freeze up. Before that seems wimpy to you, I might add that this is because they are thinking about how best to deal with the situation.

I found this striking, because I have heard of this being called a difference of the sexes. Andrew Pudewa gave a lecture on sex differences in education based on a book by Dr. Leonard Sax called Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. I distinctly remember him saying that, in an emergency, females tend to freeze up while males tend to action. So when Dr. Laney gives anecdotal evidence of herself and her husband responding to a car accident, I wonder where their introversion and extroversion leaves off and their sex differences begin. As far as I could tell, these studies on introversion and extroversion did not attempt to isolate the 'verts from other factors such as age, sex, diet, or health, all of which can have huge impacts on brain function.

25 January 2010

Meal Delivery Made Easy

When we first moved to the town in which we now live, we {my husband and I} became involved with a newlywed ministry. We essentially helped co-found this ministry for young married couples. There was an more mature couple "leading" the group, and my husband and I took on an organizational-type role.

As time went on, this group began to do what newlyweds do: they had babies.

Lots of babies.

Because I was one of the organizers, I began to plan meal delivery for these couples. {I also reaped huge benefits when the group reciprocated after a difficult C-section, delivering meals to our family for six weeks.} Back then, meal organization consisted of me typing up a sign-up sheet and passing it around the room, following up with emails, following up with phone calls, and generally spending a lot of time on this one endeavor.

I didn't mind this much, though I do remember that once I realized I could email maps via Google my time spent relaying directions over and over was greatly decreased, to my relief.

At this point in my life, however, it'd be hard for me to organize meals the way I did before. It could be done, but the way I did it required a lot of time, something I had more of when I had only one or two children, and none of them requiring lessons.

This summer, however, a dear friend had her fifth baby, and I had told her I'd organize meals. I was horrified when I realized that I was going to be out of town right after I got the meals up and running. How could I do this for her when I was gone? How could I make sure this didn't end up being a disaster?

Enter Food Tidings.

This baby does the job efficiently. Once you set up a meal delivery event, it practically runs itself. Of course, you can still type in contact information in case of emergency, but the setup allows for maximum efficiency.

It's like the deacons got a deacon, or something.

This was a big hit within our church. I've been emailed many times in the past few months by folks trying to remember the web address when it is their turn to organize a meal for someone grieving, injured, sick, or celebrating a new baby. Everyone agrees: Food Tidings knows exactly what meal organizing is about, and set up a simple, online solution.

One of my favorite features is that it has a place to enter what you are bringing. No more three-pastas-in-a-week on accident! And there was great rejoicing throughout the land!

Ahem.

As I was saying, if you are in the meal delivery organization business, this website is for you. There will always be the handful of folks who do not have internet access, and they can be served the old-fashioned way, because the organizer can go in and manually enter data. On the whole, this will make organizing fast and easy, freeing up your time so that you can make a meal or two yourself.

22 January 2010

The Darndest Things: Pink Baby's First Lesson

I observed something which astounded me yesterday. Earlier in the day, we had done a little art study and narration, and the subject of our study was Peter Bruegel the Elder's fabulous painting Children's Games. I am fast falling in love with Bruegel's unique landscapes.

Here is a look at it:



So, during Quiet Time, four-year-old A. was doing what she often does and playing with her babies. Usually, she is putting babies to bed or changing diapers, but today was quite different. The framed copy of the painting was sitting on my placemate at our dining table. My son had put it there because he had spent extra time completing his narration; it was awaiting my attention for putting it back in its spot on the wall.

A. climbed up in my seat, and sat down with her pink baby doll on her lap. She pulled the painting into her lap as well, and held the baby's eyes very, very close to the artwork. And then she began to teach her baby all about the painting, which she described as "all the people dancing in the stweet."

She even asked a couple discussion questions.

21 January 2010

The Darndest Things: About Those Missing Baby Socks...

have always been slightly paranoid about my baby sock supply. I think this is deeply rooted in past experience. When E. was a baby, his socks went missing so many times I thought I was crazy. Then the owner of our apartment mentioned that 100-year-old homes {and their garage apartments as well} have a way of eating clothing. We began to discuss the Sock Monster and even pondered inviting him over for dinner.

After that, all I wanted as a baby gift was socks. I actually, in a late-pregnancy frenzy, was known to fret over whether I had enough socks.

Yes, I know this is ridiculous.

Ahem.

Thing have gone pretty well, until now. O.'s sock supply has been mysteriously dwindling. I have been so careful with them, and he had a fully supply when we started. Today, even though the laundry is done, we reached the bottom. His sock basket was mostly empty, save the odd collection waiting to be matched with their mates.

As we were hustling to get out the door for swimming, I begged my seven-year-old for help. It had dawned on me that perhaps O. was throwing them overboard. So, I sent E. to their room to search under the crib for socks, even a half-pair that perhaps had a mate in the basket.

He returned with one sock.

But that was good enough! We matched it with something from the basket, and had socks and shoes ready to go for our outing.

But I still found myself pondering where in the world all his socks were running away to.

And then it dawned on me.

I sent E. on Mission Number Two: go to my room and search under the crib in which O. takes his naps.

The squeal from my room soon told me I'd been right. E. pulled the crib away from the wall and found:



Let's zoom in. Just for fun.



We also found two missing toys, a blanket that went AWOL months ago, and a stuffed Dalmatian.

20 January 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {Renewed in the Mind}


The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

I just finished up Chapter 2, and before moving on to Chapter 3, I want to go through some quotes and talk about them. Before I do so, let's define introverts and extroverts one more time: introversion and extroversion are two ends of an energy continuum, according to the author. On one end, we have the extroverts, who are energized by people and activity. On the other end, we have introverts, who are energized by solitude and ideas. I want to note that none of these is really a moral issue. God has made all sorts of people, and within His Body He has granted all kinds of gifts.

However, it is important to note at the outset that it is God who refreshes His people. Jesus Himself says what?
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11:28-29
Without taking this too far, I do believe there is a sense in which both extroverts as well as introverts are actually different versions of the single human tendency to seek for rest and refreshment outside of the LORD. I say this because I see this in my own self. As an introvert, I am prone to lose the pursuit of the LORD and His thoughts due to the intrusion of my zest for ideas, ideas which I think out alone.

I used the phrase renewed in the mind as my subtitle today because I want this to be the way in which my own thoughts are governed:
...that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Ephesians 4:22-24
I also think it is good for us to be cautious. We are reading a book here which is written by a non-Christian {as far as I know} author and which is highly influenced by Carl Jung's psychological theories. While Jung claimed to be a believer, his theories tended to stray from the explicit meaning of Scripture which resulted in, among other things, a complete redefining of the Logos. What this means is that we must be Bereans and make sure we test all assertions, comparing them to Scripture.

Extroverts: Thinking Out Loud

If I have one extroverted quality, it is that I think out loud {I also think on paper, hence this blog}. Naturally, I only do this when surrounded by family and close friends, so it is rare to see me doing this in public. However, my husband loves that I blog so that I don't verbally bombard him when he returns home.

Ahem.

So I found this to be interesting:
Extroverts think and talk all at one time. It is effortless to them. In fact, things become clearer as they speak out loud. Introverts, on the other hand, need time to think and don't speak with spontaneity unless it's a familiar subject.
My husband and I are "switched" in this arena, for he is very thoughtful before speaking.

Of course, and here I am thinking of an extremely small extrovert I know well, an extreme extrovert will not just think aloud when tackling an idea, but rather he will chatter the day away. In fact, because this is so true, I took the time to study a particular Scripture with a child who was behaving in this manner:
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.

Proverbs 10:19
While I firmly believe that children are created persons, that every child has a soul which must be respected throughout the parenting process, this doesn't mean that we label the extroverted child as such and simply accept certain traits. You see, while it is not morally wrong to gain energy from people and activity, the Bible makes it very clear that thinking before speaking is the way of the wise. Our goal in parenting is not to produce introverts or extroverts, but to help the children attain a measure of wisdom.

I have heard introverts complain before about extremely extroverted friends. They say things like:
  • Extrovert A talks the entire time we are together.
  • Extrovert A never asks me a question about myself.
  • Extrovert A says things which are hurtful to me and doesn't even realize it.
Here is, I think, the appropriate time to let you in on the direction I'm considering concerning this 'vert business. In my mind, we have four actual categories {and then we still must remember that many people are simply somewhere along the continuum rather than absolutely at one end or the other}: Immature Extroverts {who I've called Extreme Extroverts up to this point}, Mature Extroverts, Immature {Extreme} Introverts, and Mature Introverts. We really can't make these hard and fast categories because we are all being matured by Christ over time. Some areas are mature while others are still immature. Some areas are improving, while we don't even realize the other areas which need work. And so on.

My point is this: an extremely extroverted child who talks too much can mature into an adult who knows how to be appropriate in regard to both listening and talking. Likewise, an extremely introverted child can grow into an adult who shares thoughtful comments with the people around him. We do not have to get stuck in the negative aspects of whatever type of 'vert we are, because we have been bought, paid for, and freed by Christ.

Accepting Who God Made Us to Be

One of the reasons for this book is that the author believes our country is an extroverted one, in which extroverted qualities are extolled and admired. Because of this, she says, it is hard for introverts to survive, and they often think that something is wrong with them, even to the point of suspecting themselves to be mentally ill.

What a travesty! God created these people to be thoughtful and caring, and they are being fed a lie that because they are not gregarious, they are worthless, or perhaps even something is wrong with them.

Unfortunately, our author sort of misses the bulls eye for the solution. She writes {emphasis mine}:
[I]f a colleague asks you a question in a meeting and you want to respond but can't think of anything to say, it may trigger a feeling of shame in you. You feel yourself wanting to hide. I am no good; I'm not smart, you think. Stop. Say to yourself, "That is just how my brain works. I don't always have a quick answer. Neither did Albert Einstein. I can tell my colleague that I need to think the question over and get back to her." Then let it go. The main antidote to shame is self-esteem.
I was pretty much on board until the last sentence. At its core, esteeming oneself is a form of honoring or exalting oneself, something which is warned against in Scripture. However, what I really think she's talking about is being realistic about who you are, about accepting who God made us to be. I can beat myself up over being awkward in public, or I can laugh it off. And though the world tends to value the shoot-from-the-hip fast answer, Scripture encourages us to be slow to speak. In the past, I have felt guilty because I couldn't juggle fifteen balls like so-and-so could. Later, as I grew up a little, I realized that my job was to do well at juggling however many balls God had given to me, rather than looking around at what everyone else was doing.

So while we can identify certain immaturities to which each 'vert is prone, this doesn't mean maturity for each should be expected to look the same way. I may conquer my weaknesses, but I will never be a true extrovert.

19 January 2010

Previewing...Prereading

I try and read most everything my son reads before he reads it. This is not easy as {1} he reads quickly and {2} he has more time to read than I do. However, it is my duty to protect his mind. Here is what I've been previewing:


Leepike Ridge

Tentatively, I'm going to say this is one that I'll keep and he will read it. {We acquired it via PBS recently.} What I'm trying to decide is if he is old enough now, or if I need to wait a bit. So far, it is fine, but I need to see how it all moves along. My one concern is the semi-romantic subplot. The main character's mother is a widow, and everyone seems to want to marry her, and this is a big part of the book. Depending on which direction that takes, we may wait a bit to read it.


The Fallacy Detective:
Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning

I already know that I love this book. We will definitely use it. E. is a bit young for it now, but I'm using it to reacquaint myself with all of the fallacies. I might try and teach some of them to him in conversation before giving him the book.


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

So far, I am not super impressed with this one, even if there is an award seal on the front. We'll see. My hunch is I'll be relisting it on PBS without incident. I haven't gotten far into the story, so my objection for now is simply that I expected a higher quality of writing than I'm seeing so far. We will see. Perhaps that changes. Some books are weak in the early chapters.

Baby Cake

I was shocked and dismayed to learn that thirty people RSVP'd in the affirmative for this weekend's baby shower. Typically, we have a huge invitation list because we know that only a third of the folks on the list will actually be able to participate. But this was different. Most of the ladies were able to attend.

We had a good time, other than my extroverted {or, at least, I perceive her as more extroverted than I} aunt deciding that a good idea was to have her introverted niece run the game.

Hello? Haven't you been reading my blog?

Apparently, she has a life.

Ahem.

The real fun for me was in making the cake, and again in making sugar cookies for the favors. I had planned a normal size of a cake, and as the RSVPs rolled in, the cake got taller...and taller. What you see in the pictures is three boxes of cake mix {yes, I make homemade frosting, but use a plain old less-than-a-dollar box}. I baked this in only two layers, the cake pan being large enough for one-and-a-half boxes to fill it.

Our theme was based on some disposable napkins and plates my mother purchased that are, I think, intended for christenings. They had baby booties on them, pink flowers, a little silver cross, and had "A Baby is a Blessing" inscribed on each and every one.

When I saw a pair of size zero patent leather off-white booties, I knew what I had to do. I had to figure out how to use these as a cake topper without ruining them, so that my cousin (the mother-to-be) could keep them and use them for the baby. I am thinking these will be fabulous shoes for Easter.

While I was out buying my supplies, I grabbed a 99-cent bit of fake flowers that looked similar to what I was imaging for the cake, just in case I needed them. Wow, am I glad I did that!

But before I share the photos, I have to tell you my Cake Horror Story. Part One is fairly typical. I flipped the cake over in the Usual Way, to remove it from the pan in order to continue its cooling. I couldn't believe how perfectly it came out--not a bit of it had stuck to the pan. It was, however, quite raised in the center. I knew I'd need to slice it down to level it a bit, but I was going to let it cool just as it was. All of a sudden, it gave a little shudder. It looked like an earthquake, and it split lengthwise, perfectly down the center.

Three years ago, I would have panicked, but now I know that this happens about every three cakes. So, I called my husband to help me wrap it in plastic wrap, and we held it together as best we could and popped it in the freezer.

Did you know it is much easier to frost a cake if it is frozen?

This was only Part One!

The next day, I was going to frost the cake on-site so that I didn't have to risk transporting a decorated cake. I don't have any of the right equipment for transporting. I packed my beloved industrial mixer into the trunk, along with the two frozen layers of cake, and a laundry basket full of cake decorating supplies.

As I rounded a corner midway through my drive, I heard my mixer turn over. Oh. My. Word. I knew this was bad, but it was very foggy and the road was narrow and there was nothing to do but to keep driving.

When I opened the tailgate to retrieve my supplies, I found the mixer--the entire mixer--on top of the cake!

Score two for freezing cakes! Had they not be frozen, they would have been destroyed, but instead all we had was a dramatic indentation in one of the layers, meaning we knew which layer was going on the bottom.

Ahem.

End Horror Story.

Now, for the photos. Here, we have the top of the cake as I was beginning. I had entirely frosted what I call my "base coat" and added on the booties and the fake flowers which ended up being indispensable:



Here is the top after I had finished with the inscription and done the borders. I always do flowers last because I don't really know how many are appropriate until everything else is done. One of my weaknesses is inscription, and that is mostly because I have no practice. Writing with frosting is quite different from writing with pen. You cannot lift up as easily, and the cursive is true cursive, with all of the letters completely attached to one another.



Here is the finished product. The lighting is also better here. You can see another one of my weaknesses in this photo. See how the border reveals a hill-shaped top of the cake? Someday I will buy a real cake leveler, but for now I use a knife, and I am too timid in using said knife to level it well. But it works, and I don't think most people noticed. In fact, that is my Philosophy of Imperfect Cake Decorating: people want to like the cake. They aren't looking for imperfections, unless they are the typical American bride, which is why I would probably never, ever do a wedding cake.

Ahem.

As I was saying, here is the photo:



18 January 2010

Grammar and Metaphysics

I will get back to discussing The Introvert Advantage tomorrow or the next day. I haven't been reading it much over the weekend, as I helped throw a baby shower instead of reading. Ideally, I would post a photo of the cake, but my father hasn't emailed me the photos yet {hint, hint}.

Anyhow, enough of the boring details of my personal life.

Let's talk grammar.

This little post was inspired by a conversation we had over leftover cake last night with a dear friend. This friend is currently taking Si's class {for which he wrote his book Culture Makers}. He asked Si if he was going to cover Truth: how it is defined, what it is and isn't, and so on. Essentially, this friend asked if Si was going to cover Metaphysics 101. Si's response was affirmative; that is typically the topic of the second meeting of the class.

And then our friend explained the origin of his concern. It seems he had taken a graduate-level course from a local branch of a well-known "Christian" university. The class, granted, was not a class on metaphysics, and yet the prevailing underlying metaphysic--for both the instructor as well as the students--was clear: Truth is whatever I can see with my eyes, hear with my ears, and so on.

In other words, the class itself was not Christian, but materialistic, in that reality was defined as the material alone.

Our friend's response at one point, since his fellow classmates professed to be believers, was to ask them about angels, which seemed to get them thinking a bit.

I found all of this interesting because it speaks to the lack of true grammar instruction in general.

Since we are little here, we just began grammar instruction a couple of weeks ago. We are going slowly through Harvey's Elementary Grammar and Composition, learning one lesson per week. I have a chalkboard in our dining room, and each week I write up the main thoughts in the lessons and we discuss and review them before moving on.

The very first grammar lesson is a lesson in metaphysics. The reason for this is better explained in another grammar book we own, the 1908 edition of Kittredge's The Mother Tongue:
Since language is the expression of thought, the rules of grammar agree, in the main, with the laws of thought.

In other words, grammar accords, in the main, with logic, which is the science that deals with the way in which our minds act when we think or reason. {emphasis in the original}
Therefore, the very first lesson in Harvey's is a discussion of the five senses.

Here is the logic our lesson followed. You have five senses. Can you name them? And, because my student is seven-years-old, he named them just fine. Things that you can know about using your five sense are things which can be perceived. The word perception is a direct reference to material things because it requires the use of the five senses. Concrete youngsters comprehend this sort of idea.

But then we moved on. Can you think of something that cannot be perceived? Since I am learning to wait for thoughts to appear, I sat there and let him chew on that for a while. And chew he did. Finally, he asked for help. He really didn't think there was anything that couldn't be perceived.

What about happiness? At this question, his face began to light up. Can you feel it with your skin? Touch it? Smell it? See it? Hear it? No, no, no, no, and no. But is it real? Yes.

This is a thing of which you can be conscious, but which cannot be perceived.

Then he tried to guess other objects in this category. We talked about sorrow and grief, anger, frustration, valor, honor, and even God.

And then we wrote this definition on the board:
An OBJECT is anything which we can perceive or of which we may be conscious.
Every single day for a week, we came up with "objects of which we may be conscious." This isn't easy for a small child, most of whose world is made up of the concrete. But even children experience the abstract. They know what it means to love, to despise, to enjoy, to be angry about, and so on.

It is only after years of schooling that the soul has been so injured that it defines reality as only that which can be perceived, forgetting its own experience in the process.

This is why one of the battles of the mind that can be fought within our own realm of influence is a grammatical one. Know your grammar, and combat these things as they arise. You, too, may gain the opportunity to ask: what about angels? joy? love?

14 January 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {What Does "Friend" Mean?}


The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

In this Facebook generation, folks are playing fast and loose with the word friend. One can "friend" someone, as if friend were a verb {it's not--the word befriend denotes the action of becoming a friend}. One can have 500 "friends," most of whom one never sees in person, and some of whom, quite possibly, one has never even met.

Facebook, though I know that some have found it to be a handy tool for keeping in touch with those real-life friends who moved around the world to become missionaries, or those family members who insisted on living all the way across the country, is extroversion taken to epidemic proportions.

Dr. Laney, as I mentioned, has a couple quizzes in her book to help introverts identify themselves. One of the marks of the introvert, according to one quiz, is that an introvert does not think of a casual acquaintance as a friend. When I contrast this with the picture she, in the early pages, briefly paints of the extrovert, as a sort of butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, sampling conversations rather than sustaining them, I can't help but think that she is discovering something that is wrong within the extroverted culture {Laney believes that America's culture is extroverted, by the way}, rather than just a this-works-for-introverts and this-works-for-extroverts sort of issue.

Near the end of her book, in the chapter Nurture Your Nature, she writes:
Extroverts...consider almost everyone they know a friend.
She contrasts this by saying that
[Introverts] believe all relationships have to be "deep" and "meaningful" in order to be authentic.
The word friend cannot, simply can not, mean "everyone the person knows." But does this mean the introvert is correct? Do only "deep and meaningful" relationships count as friendships?

Let's Ask Mr. Webster

I adore retreating to my trusty Webster's 1828 Dictionary as a way of transcending my own time and place in history when it comes to words and how they are used. Back then, this was the definition of friend:
FRIEND, n. frend.

1. One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.
This actually sounds to me more like an extroverted definition, but lets compare it with the definition of acquaintance, for the sake of clarity:
ACQUAI'NTANCE, n.

1. Familiar knowledge; a state of being acquainted, or of having intimate or more than slight or superficial knowledge; as, I know the man, but have no acquaintance with him. Sometimes it denotes a more slight knowledge.

2. A person or persons well known; usually persons we have been accustomed to see and converse with; sometimes, persons more slightly known.
The contrast here seems to be between an affection which compels future, deliberate contact, on the one hand, and simple basic knowledge of one another, on the other hand. The fact that two people know each other's names, and, when they see each other in public, they greet each other and have a brief conversation, does not make them friends. However, if they schedule lunch for the following week, and they begin to seek each other out, and gain a true affection for one another, it probably does make them friends. Notice that there isn't necessarily a whole lot "deep and meaningful" about this.

Could Both be Wrong?

As an introvert, I wanted extroverts to be wrong. I'm being honest here. I don't take the term friend to quite the extreme of requiring all friendships to be "deep and meaningful" to qualify, but I also don't bestow the term on many people. And I wanted that to be Right.

However, comma.

After looking up definitions and thinking a bit, I think the case may be that while extroverts are under-defining friendship, introverts might be over-defining friendship. Reading on, I see that Dr. Laney agrees, and goes so far as to encourage introverts to broaden their horizons and have a few more friends.

The Differences Between the 'Verts

There was a day that I believed that extroverts were promiscuous with friendship. They couldn't possibly be real friends with that many people. This was my thinking.

However, comma.

I think I was underestimating the dynamic power of extroversion. Though I firmly believe that extreme extroverts have some definite character issues going on {I'll come back to that thought sometime, so just follow me here}, for the most part extroverts are just good with people. They are good at having friends and good at being friends. I, for one, have learned much about friendship from the more extroverted people in my life.

One of the things I had to realize was that just because I couldn't maintain x number of genuine relationships didn't mean that a certain extrovert I knew couldn't either.

If you are like me, then you have probably reached or superseded your maximum capacity for friendship. What I mean is, you have reached the point where you have trouble being a good friend to the friends you already have. You might have a number of unreturned emails sitting in your inbox--emails from people you have a genuine affection for. You might have people you wish you saw more, but life and energy levels and details get in the way.

I do not relish parties, but I find myself throwing more of them simply because it is an expedient means of seeing more of the people I care most about. I don't have the time to see everyone individually at this stage of life, and I'd rather see some of my closest friends in a group rather than not at all.

Does this make sense?

To bring this back to the extrovert, I think that an introvert needs to come to an understanding that though an extrovert has a maximum capacity for friendship, also, this is probably more defined by time than by energy. What I mean is, most extroverts can probably handle as many friends as they have time for, while most introverts can probably only handle as many friends as they have energy for.

The capacity for friendship is coming from a different place, depending on what sort of person you are.

Introverts at Church

I was speaking with an acquaintance a while back. She asked me which church I belonged to, and when I replied she mentioned that she had tried to attend my church, but she just couldn't do it because it was so large. She had no complaint about doctrine or anything else important, it was just size.

And I thought about that and then replied that I am probably only comfortable because I grew up in this church. It is my home. Just as I don't get increasingly uncomfortable as my own family grows in size, I don't get increasingly uncomfortable as my church grows in size.

However, comma.

Because I am introverted, I would probably never choose my church if I was in a strange city looking for a church, because the size would be daunting. Which brings me to a question: Is it possible that the larger a church becomes, the more likely it is to attract extroverts? If so, I wonder what this means for the church.

Another issue to think about is the small groups movement. I consider this a vast extroverted conspiracy.

Okay, so maybe that was an exaggeration.

However, depending on what a church determines a small group is for and about, it'll make a difference on who joins small groups and why.

For instance, once at our church, we were told that small groups can meet the need for Christian community. The reality is that our church is large and folks really can come on Sundays without ever becoming an active part of the Body by actually attaching to the Body.

However, I also struggle with what I mentioned before: my own capacity. I feel I have reached mine, that I often do not do justice to the friendships I already have, that God would have me become a better friend to my existing friends, rather than getting involved in some other activity. I already am not serving as well as I'd like in the roles I already play.

Many introverts probably have to face this about themselves, if they are honest.

I was talking to my husband about this recently. Our membership in the church means that we must be active members, and being part of a small group is considered standard active membership. One of the things we have discussed is trying to nurture the Christian community we already have, the part of the Body to which we are already irrevocably attached, by forming our own small group.

However, I can also see some drawbacks to that approach, especially if one of the purposes of small groups is to become attached to a larger group of people. Some churches would say that this is exactly the point, and then one must wonder if this means that one must convert to extroversion in order to join those churches.

Of course, if someone was to form a very intimate small group, one must also guard against cliquishness. All Christians are called to the practice of hospitality; not just extroverts.

13 January 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {What is the Purpose of Quiet Time?}


The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.
Most home-educating families I know of incorporate some sort of Quiet Time into their afternoons. And many couple I know who do not yet have children have commented that if they were doing what we are doing, they would want to have regular Quiet Time, too. When the children are very young, Quiet Time is really Nap Time, sometimes for Mommy, too. But once naps begin to be dropped, Quiet Time as a formal part of the day really sets in.

The Options

There are probably as many versions of Quiet Time as there are families, so I don't want to talk about the shape which Quiet Time takes as much as the purpose of it in the first place. I can only think of three real options as far as purposes go, but if you have more feel free to add them in the comments:
  1. The primary purpose of Quiet Time is to offer a period of time for "recharging" before the day picks back up with dinner and other later afternoon and evening activities.
  2. The primary purpose of Quiet Time is to offer balance in the lives of family members--much of the day is spent with other people, often all in the same room, and this is a chance to be separate.
  3. The primary purpose of Quiet Time is to offer the introverted mother an opportunity for sanity, a chance to recharge her own personal batteries.
How we define the purpose of Quiet Time is going to determine what Quiet Time looks like and feels like within the family.

Which is Your Quiet Time?

Let me say now that I only consider options 1 and 2 to be valid options. Though introverted mothers may benefit personally from Quiet Time, I think holding that benefit up as the sole purpose for Quiet Time is dangerous. There was a time when, if I had been honest with myself, this was the real reason for our Quiet Times, and I found myself very resentful whenever someone woke up early from their nap, or needed help with a math problem. Now that I view Quiet Time differently, I experience the interruptions differently as well.

If a family chooses the first option, and decides that the purpose of Quiet Time is rejuvenation, then they are going to be obligated to discover what rejuvenates the individual children. For instance, if you have two extroverts, or one extrovert and your neighbor child is an extrovert also, letting them play quietly together is probably the best way to go, for extroverts tend to be drained by time alone.

Our Quiet Time is not for the purpose of rejuvenation. It is for balance. It is my belief that the ideal mature person can handle being with others and being alone equally well. And because I am a Christian, I also see the importance of spending time in reflection, prayer, and Scripture reading. Even for young non-readers, having a habit of Quiet Time can offer the space to grow into a more active spiritual life. So, just as I expect my introverts to show up and participate in Circle Time, I expect my extroverts to spend time alone during Quiet Time.

12 January 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {Intro}


The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.


The purpose of this first introductory post is to get a few things out of the way. You know the drill: disclaimer, caveat, basic definitions. I was glad to see a few of you had read, or at least heard of, the book, for the conversation will be much more lively! However, I suspect that this blog is haunted by introverts, so this could be interesting, even if you haven't read it.

This brings me to The Disclaimer: I am an introvert. I already knew this before I took the cute little quizzes in the first chapter. Last night, I decided to quiz my husband, who I already knew was this weird blend of both extroversion and introversion. The extrovert in him came out when I was testing the waters.

"I took a quiz in this book to confirm I'm an introvert," I said.

"You did?" he replied, eyebrows raised. "How bad is it?"

How bad is it? Of course, I made a big display over such a comment, for that was what he wanted: "What? You think introversion is a disease?" And, naturally, he smirked at me.

To be fair, he had a right to ask me how bad it was because, truth be told, I'm about as introverted as a person can get while still falling within the realm of "normal." I think people who are more introverted than me usually are labeled with some sort of social disorder, but I could be wrong about that.

Ahem.

The point here is that all writers have a bias, and mine is that I'm an introvert reading a book about introverts. I try to counter my biases by reminding myself to read things biblically, logically, and in conversation with others. That last part is where you all come in.

The Caveat probably won't surprise you all, either: I have angst. In this particular situation, I have a very tense relationship with all things psychological. At its core, I believe that modern mainstream psychology {but not every individual practicing psychologist} defines man {as well as his salvation} in a way which is in conflict with the Bible. This is why I don't read a ton of psychology-type books. However, this doesn't mean there is nothing a Christian can learn from reading a book like this, and that is what I plan to do. But the angst is real, and there is some history behind it, and introvert or no, Holy Scripture is still the highest authority when it comes to defining man, his purposes, his needs, and his remedies.

And now, it is time for the basic definitions I've gleaned from the early pages of the book. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but typically books define terms early on and use them throughout. So, naturally, we need to know what an introvert really is. Dr. Laney writes:
[I]ntroversion and extroversion are on opposite ends of an energy continuum. Where we fall on that continuum predicts how we derive our life energy. People on the more introverted end of the continuum focus inward to gain energy. People on the more extroverted end of the continuum focus outward to gain energy.
Perhaps the most important word in the above paragraph is energy. This book appears to be all about energy in that it identifies both introversion as well as extroversion in terms of energy sources, levels, and so on. So, in case Dr. Laney's point wasn't clear, I will give you my own definition: introverts are energized by being alone. This is overly simple, and the quizzes in the book identify a set of characteristics that go beyond this single sentence, but the fact remains that introverts thrive on Quiet Time.

I already knew this, but I was pretty clueless about the more extreme extroverts. I was shocked to realize that they find Quiet Time to be energy-draining. Doesn't everyone need a nap after spending time with other people?

Ahem.

Dr. Laney gives three major characteristics which distinguish introverts from extroverts:
  1. Introverts are "energized by the internal world--by ideas, impressions, and emotions."
  2. Introverts are easily overstimulated {by crowds, noise, too much in the schedule}.
  3. "Introverts like depth and will limit their experiences but feel each of them deeply."
In contrast, extroverts seek out lots of stimulation, she says, almost as if they could feed on it. Extroverts like variety, they like to sample the world, they seek breadth over depth.

My personal opinion is that most people are somewhere in between. I am a pretty extreme introvert, have only met a handful of folks as introverted as me, and even fewer people who are very extreme extroverts. So, when Dr. Laney is setting up the opposite ends of the spectrum, she also reminds us that many folks fall in the middle.

11 January 2010

Starting Tomorrow: Reflections on Introversion

Have you seen this book? I found it on my mother's shelf:





The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World


I didn't mean to be thinking about this book, but it called to me. And then I opened it, and I started to read it. And then I began to think about it. Tomorrow, we'll talk about it...

A Fond Reflection: Five Years Without Television

Our children have been sans television since the very beginning. I remember that Si and I, when we were first married, liked to watch a certain show when he arrived home from work. We put E. in his baby swing, facing us, which is to say, away from the television. I remember the day we realized that he was craning his neck, attempting to look over the back of the swing seat.

That was one of the last times we watched that show, at least at that hour.

Back then, I felt like a revolutionary. We were fresh from reading Amusing Ourselves to Death and though we weren't so crazy as to completely eliminate the big blue eye from our own lives, we were crazy enough to protect our child. We invented this rule: No TV until age 2, no matter what.

And we stuck to it.

Sure, the boy probably caught a glimpse when we were at restaurants, or in other people's homes, but we never sat him down to watch a show of any kind {I can safely say we did this to the point of annoying our extended family}.

And then this funny thing happened: the boy turned two.

Somehow, the second birthday didn't end up feeling as magical as we had anticipated. He was two, and yet he was really only a day older than the day before, when he was one and we didn't let him watch anything.

Around that same time, after living with my parents for ten months, our first house was finished being built, and we moved in. And the television ended up in our room. Why, we asked ourselves, make the television the focal point of the living room when we rarely turn it on ourselves and we don't want our son asking to watch it?

That was a key step that we took, five and a half years ago: we didn't put the television in the center of the room.

In these past five years, we have had three more children, all of whom have been raised virtually electronic media-free. There was a brief period of time, when our oldest was three, that constant colds in the winter caused me to flip on a movie for a moment's peace and quiet. But I didn't really like the impact on my son's attitude and thinking, and after doing this a couple times, I decided to just learn how to deal with sickness without an electric babysitter.

And so here we are.

This really isn't a rant against television. You see, just the other day, when we were all gathered around the dinner table, and something funny had just happened, and there was scattering of giggles, I had this strange thought. We have succeeded in building a family culture.

When I consider that we started with this innocent rule made almost purely out of concern for our son's intellect {as compared to his soul--concern for that came a bit later}, I find it almost ironic. In learning to live without television, we learned to live on our own terms, on our own schedule, in our own way, according to our own interests, and in a way that suits us just fine.

In avoiding television, I no longer see a place where it would fit into our lives. We have moved on, and living without it is the most natural thing in the world.

One of the side-benefits is that our children are untainted by marketing professionals. I never anticipated this. Shopping at a place like Target makes me weary, especially when I see small children begging for Dora this and Cars movie that and whatever else Disney or some other corporate giant convinced them they must like. I am so tired of companies defining children not as a persons but as consumers. Our children were not born for the purpose of buying things, but Disney wishes this were otherwise.

Ahem.

Recently, I was sort of irritated by one of my children, who kept reminding me about some toy which was considered desirable, and I just kept thinking that this child was a little old for such a thing. Shouldn't this child have moved on to "more mature" toys by now?

And then I spoke to some other children around this child's age. When we discussed Christmas, I realized that every single "more mature" toy these other children discussed were action figures...which went with movies and TV shows to which our family is not exposed. When I pointed these toys out to my child {not to encourage, but just to gauge a response}, the child shrugged. Such toys don't make sense to someone who hasn't seen the movies.

And then suddenly I realized that I had allowed marketers to define "mature" toys for me. I didn't realize that my child had been, all this time, expressing to me a real, live, actual interest. I myself was so influenced by the culture, that I missed seeing what was right before me.

Once I realized that all "moving on" in the world of toys really meant was "moving on" to the toys associated with more "mature" viewing habits, I was able to totally loosen up.

I mean, did you ever notice that in old books, within pre-television and pre-radio cultures, the children are playing dress-up well into their teens?

Television, on a cultural level, has matured children right out of childhood.

So, God has been gracious to us. Somehow, He made Good things attractive to us before we even recognized them for what they were. And in the process we find blessing, innocence, and simple pleasures.

Who knew that turning off the television could be the beginning of finding meaning?

09 January 2010

Book Review: Jotham's Journey

During this recent Advent season, we used a new book, which we bought especially for the purpose. This book came recommended to us from a variety of places and people, folks and businesses we know and trust. It is part of a trilogy, but I don't think we'll be buying the rest of it, and I'm about to tell you why.

Before I go on, here is the book:


Jotham's Journey:
A Storybook for Advent


**Spoiler Alert: Spoilers Ahead!**

Before I wrote this post, I asked my husband to email me his opinion. I was very careful not to pollute the well by telling him my opinions first. He began his response with a number of good things about the book, and I agree with all of them. Here is what he wrote:
Good aspects: It has a well-crafted plot line that draws together various elements of the familiar advent story. It has short chapters and many cliff-hangers at the end of each, which makes the kids anxious to keep reading. It has a few comical characters for entertainment. It encourages good morals and discourages bad ones. It emphasizes the primacy of the Scriptures in identifying the general timing of the Messiah's arrival {applies to both advents, I hasten to add}.
Jotham's Journey fits neatly into the historical adventure fiction genre. So, while Jotham himself is a fictional character, he is a nephew of Joseph {this is one of those spoilers I mentioned, for this is not evident until later in the book}, who is betrothed to the Virgin Mary. This means he is also a relative of John the Baptist. On his Journey, he also meets some of those other amazing New Testament characters, such as Simeon and Anna. Beyond this, through the reading, we get a bit of a feel for, perhaps, what shepherds were like, what the wise men were like. Jotham even ends up briefly visiting Qumran and meeting the Essenes.

The more knowledge of Scripture, Biblical archaeology, and ancient Israeli history one has, the more one will appreciate the book. Truly, the author was able to weave his story together without compromising the actual events, and for this he should be applauded.

We have, however, two pretty important criticisms. I will start with the lesser, which my husband sums up pretty well:
Some paragraphs call for ad-hoc editing by the reader, especially for small children. The first chapter, for example, includes a few sentiments from Jotham toward his father that I didn't feel appropriate to read aloud to my children. Also, in two parts of the story, the main bad guy says that he killed his parents. I didn't read this description aloud the first time, but I did the second time because it seemed more appropriate in the latter context.
This criticism, it must be noted, is pertinent because our children are so young. I really don't think a family reading this to an 11-year-old would bat an eye. But most 11-year-olds are mature enough to see folly for what it is. Our own children, on the other hand, are still immature and often find books with a strong "hero" who is foolish {even if he later comes to repentance} to be a source of temptation {in the sense that they later imitate the foolish behaviors from the book}. They are, in a word, impressionable. Our daughters, also, are simply too young for a story that turned out a bit scarier than we anticipated.

I suppose I could say that this is what we get for not pre-reading!

In general, there is a difference between having a Frodo-type hero, who is genuinely good, or a Jotham-type hero, who is really struggling with obedience, when it comes to reading with young children. They still need the black and white distinctions. Or, at least, my children still do.

My greater criticism comes from the structure of the book itself and, ironically enough, it is something we also listed as a good point. Remember those cliff-hanger endings my husband mentioned? Well, they are a good thing, I suppose, in the sense that they make a child want to keep reading. But here's the rub: We didn't actually sit down and "do Advent" every single evening. Because of this, we were often sitting down to read two or three "days" at a time. The book is structured in such a way that you read the story, and then go through some devotional-type questions at the end.

When we were reading multiple days at a time, the effect was that all of us {except perhaps Si--the author sucked me in as well} were tempted to skip the devotional part and move on with the book. Our two oldest children couldn't stand the cliff-hangers--they wanted to know what was going to happen right now.

Which means that all of us had varying levels of a particular disease: that of a closed heart. The story, in this sense, became a distraction. We didn't really want to read the devotions, we wanted to consume the story {and the story is written for the Modern; it is written for the purpose of being consumed, not for being read contemplatively}. We did it {went through the questions}, and it helps that my husband is not as affected by such things as the rest of us, so he kept us under control, but what we really wanted was the next chapter.

I suppose it might be more beneficial if a family were reading one day at a time, but I still think that the anxiety created by cliff-hanger-type chapter endings is counterproductive if one intends to have a meaningful spiritual conversation directly afterwards.

I don't read much fiction, especially modern fiction, and this is why: it is a huge distraction for me. I can't put it down. I am tempted to neglect my duties. Part of this says something about modern fiction, but a lot of it really says something about me, and now also the poor children who have inherited the sins and weaknesses of their mother.

With that said, a family will need to consider, at the very least, their own temperament. If they are like some people I know, and easily distracted by a flashy plot line, they may need a tamer book for Advent.

I don't, by the way, necessarily object to the story itself, though I suspect Charlotte Mason would call it twaddle. It is just that I'd much rather it be a book, and let my children read it. I didn't find it to serve the purposes of an Advent evening well. It didn't promote the appropriate solemnity or reverence.

Ah! There is what I'm looking for: propriety. Some things are wrong for the context, and I found that to be the case with this book.

What was that my husband said? Oh, yes:
For something as important as the Incarnation/Advent, I'd prefer a more objective look at the story and associated Scriptures...The fewer distractions from truth, the better.

08 January 2010

Education, the Science of Relations

It was Charlotte Mason who said this, by the way. She believed that children didn't have to be spoon-fed, that they could actually make connections all on their own, if they were properly nourished on ideas. This proper feeding of the mind was what she called a "generous education."

This term I decided to offer two connected things without comment, and see what happened. I don't consider this to be treating my children as guinea pigs, for both of these things were worthy of contemplation all on their own.

We just finished up our first week of Term Two, though I can't say we finished well, for I have caught a horrid cold and skipped Circle Time altogether yesterday, other than briefly reciting our memory verse. And today I'm just not up to the tiny field trip I had hoped for.

Good thing there are many more weeks where this one came from.

So, as I was saying, I put out two connected things. The first was Proverbs 10:4, which was read at the beginning of Circle Time, preceding a discussion on manners.
Poor is he who works with a negligent hand,
But the hand of the diligent makes rich.
And the second was a poem, which was read at the very end of Circle Time, and briefly narrated by the seven-year-old and the four-year-old {she is only asked to remember one thing from the poem}.

The Father and his Children


As round their dying father's bed
His sons attend, the peasant said:
'Children, deep hid from prying eyes,
A treasure in my vineyard lies;
When you have laid me in the grave,
Dig, search--and your reward you'll have.'
'Father,' cries one, 'but where's the spot?'
--He sighs! he sinks! but answers not.

The tedious burial service o'er,
Home hie his sons, and straight explore
Each corner of the vineyard round,
Dig up, beat, break, and sift the ground;
Yet though to search so well inclined,
Nor gold, nor treasure could they find;
But when the autumn next drew near,
A double vintage crowned the year.
'Now,' quoth the peasant's wisest son,
'Our father's legacy is known,
In yon rich purple grapes 'tis seen,
Which, but for digging, ne'er had been.

'Then let us all reflect with pleasure,
That labour is the source of treasure.'

--Anonymous, 1757
On the first day of discussing the poem, my son was distracted by the fact that the poem was referencing a traditional story. He has read a version in one of his faerie books, and also, I believe, Aesop wrote a fable following this basic plot line. So E. just rambled on, wondering which came first, the poem or the tale. A. claimed she didn't remember anything other than that the grapes were purple.

On the second day, A. declared that the sons found the treasure, and E. said that they wouldn't have had so many grapes had they not worked so hard.

On the third day, A. was still talking about the sons finding the treasure, and Q. was mimicking her, but E. made the connection. He was crouching on the floor, rocking back and forth, because this is how boys were meant to act while they are thinking, and finally he said, "I think the poem is really about that verse we've been reading."

And so we talked about that a little.

Mason was right after all, not that I ever really doubted her. Little children really can put two and two together and make four, all by themselves, as long as we actually offer them two, and then two more.

And speaking of making connections, E. also found me out yesterday, so to speak. We were discussing The Burgess Animal Book for Children and he wanted to know why the animals were always in school. I told him that the book was all about the animals going to school, and so that is where they were.

Then, he wanted to know why we hadn't gotten to tigers or anything more exciting than otters and martens, and I explained that this was because we were in the weasel branch of the Carnivora order {we've mapped it all out on paper}, and so we just haven't gotten there yet. He recalled that we were told that next time we'd study the Dog family.

And then he gasped, and looked at me as if I'd tricked him.

"Why, this is a learning book!"

07 January 2010

The Darndest Things: They Hold Hands

My husband and I have often joked that our children came in pairs. The first two were bald...and then strawberry-headed, both complete with freckles and green eyes. The second two were both born with very dark brown {almost black} hair which faded, over time, to a dirty blond, attendant blue eyes and, thus far, no freckles.

Too bad no one inherited Si's dimples, but I digress.

I was convinced the older two wouldn't be very close to one another because they were so far apart--almost three years. However, A. made up for the age gap by learning to crawl at four months of age. And she's kept up with E. ever since. She also keeps him in line and helps him loosen up, and I figure when he's old enough to marry he'll have to find someone pretty much exactly like her.

When Q. was born, she became the metaphorical third wheel. They are good enough to her, of course, but they had their projects and their fun and she was often considered "in the way." Now, they take her outside, but they often treat her more like a baby than a peer.

I've been watching Q. and O. for some time now. I wondered if they'd be a matched pair the way the older two were. I started to second-guess it the way I did the first two. Q. was still a baby {nineteen months} when O. was born, and a bit of competition set in. Would this last forever? Would they become friends, or always be competing for me?

I think I am seeing the glimmers of another matched pair, and I am thrilled.

A few months ago, Q. and O. began holding hands during car rides. Their carseats are right together, and they reach for each other once we're settled in the car. Q. gets a kick out of it and always announces it to everyone. But I really knew I was seeing the makings of something special the other night when I was giving O. his bottle. Both of his sisters had climbed up into the oversized chair with us. O. started batting the air, and I thought he was motioning for them to get down and give him his space. But Q. knew what he wanted. She settled in right close and held his hand through his whole bottle, just the way he wanted.

The Darndest Things: Alas, I Am Undone

My smallest child, affectionately dubbed O. the Undoer, has been suffering with a cold this past week {and he was kind enough to share it, too}. This cold, with its attendant runny nose, has served him well in his aim to undo all of the chores the rest of us have done.

Undoing has reached a whole new level.

Here is his new tactic: when Mom is folding laundry, wait until she turns to look at someone else. Then, quickly, jump upon the couch and use one or two {preferably two} clean items to wipe your own nose.

06 January 2010

Marmee's Plans

Yesterday at lunch, I read a bit of Little Women aloud to the children. I think that any woman who enjoyed this book as a girl should read it again as a mother. I hardly noticed Marmee during my many youthful readings of the book. She didn't interest me except insofar as her actions advanced the plot concerning the girls and the Laurence boy, who were far more interesting to me.

But Marmee is, in many ways, an ideal mother, and I find myself inspired to greater excellence in mothering due to reading about her.

In the chapter Meg Goes to Vanity Fair, Meg has spent some time in the most worldly environment she has ever known. She made a bit of a fool of herself, dressing in a way that drew attention, flirting, drinking champagne {basically acting like me in high school, except I skipped the champagne}, and when she returns home she confesses her sins to her mother.

While out "in the world," someone insinuated in Meg's hearing that Marmee had "plans" for her girls, and one of those plans was supposed to be marrying one of them off to their rich neighbor. The way in which this was presented called into question Marmee's goodwill. Was Marmee being kind to the neighbors only for the sake of her own family's gain?

So, Marmee puts Meg's conscience at ease, apologizes for allowing her to go away in the first place, and answers Meg's questions {in the presence of daughter Jo as well}:
"Mother, do you have 'plans,' as Mrs. Moffat said?" asked Meg bashfully.

"Yes, my dear, I have a great many; all mothers do, but mine differ somewhat from Mrs. Moffat's, I suspect. I will tell you some of them, for the time has come when a word may set this romantic little head and heart of yours right, on a very serious subject. You are young, Meg, but not too young to understand me; and mothers' lips are the fittest to speak of such things to girls like you. Jo, your turn will come in time, perhaps, so listen to my 'plans,' and help me carry them out, if they are good."

[snip]

"I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good; to be admired, loved, and respected; to have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman; and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg; right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it; so that, when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world--marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing--and, when well used, a noble thing--but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I'd rather see you poor men's wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect or peace."

"Poor girls don't stand a chance, Belle says, unless they put themselves forward," sighed Meg.

"Then we'll be old maids," said Jo stoutly.

"Right, Jo; better be happy old maids than unhappy wives or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," said Mrs. March decidedly. "Don't be troubled, Meg; poverty seldom daunts a sincere lover. Some of the best and most honored women I know were poor girls, but so loveworthy that they were not allowed to be old maids. Leave these things to time; make this home happy, so that you may be fit for homes of your own, if they are offered to you, and contented here if they are not. One thing remember, my girls: mother is always ready to be your confidante, father to be your friend; and both of us trust and hope that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of our lives."

05 January 2010

On Princesses

There was a time when I eschewed all things princess. I had adored Disney growing up, and when I began reading the original fairy tales and realized how Disney had stripped them of almost all of their meaning, those same movies I had once loved rang hollow to me. Around this same time, I had my first daughter, and everywhere I looked there was "Princess" garb. The word was plastered on socks, onesies, dresses, and bibs. During that time, the word "princess" became equated in my mind with "spoiled brat who thinks she is royalty."

Oh, the stories I could tell, but that would hardly move this post forward, so you'll just have to trust me.

So, while, once upon a time, I thought of my future daughters as "little princess," I found myself at a point of tension {I know you are all shocked by this seeing as I am so relaxed about everything as a general rule}.

Ahem.

Enter Daughter Q., who has recently grown her affection for princesses from a bloom to a blossom. She adores princesses. Her grandma sent her older sister a princess dress a year ago, and suddenly, Disney's Snow White was showing up at breakfast.

And Circle Time.

And lunch.

And during chores {she wasn't too proud to work!}.

You get the picture.

When I asked her, about eight weeks ago, what sort of cake she wanted for her birthday, she confidently announced that she would have a Princess Cake.

You may recall that I have the necessary supplies for crafting a princess cake, which I procured for the Annabelle Cake last spring. But a princess cake? Really?

I found myself pondering this little one. Was this something I really wanted to encourage?

I had recently found myself, ironically enough, defending fairy tales, and beautiful princesses in particular, on a Yahoo group to which I belong. I decided to go and reread what I had written, and in the process I convinced myself to throw a full-fledged princess party. Here is a bit of what I had written:
Recently, we read The Princess and the Pea {original version}. It was interesting to all of us, how the prince couldn't seem to find a real princess, how many girls looked like princesses, but weren't. It actually fell right in line with the Prov. 31 verse above when we thought about it. So we discussed how the princess was put to the test, a test of physical sensitivity. Somehow this ended up being a discussion on real sensitivity. If the prince was looking for a good wife, what sort of wife should he find? Would she be kind? Would she be sensitive to the needs of others? How is that like being able to feel a pea 100 mattresses or whatever down? And the other girls, did they look like princesses? Were they authentic? Why not? This became a wonderful, wonderful conversation within the group {7yo boy, 5 and 4 yo girls that day}.

When I read the text, there is so much in the old stories that is drowned out by the fact that I was exposed to Disney versions that turned them into nothing but vapor, rather than the lasting truth tales they were meant to be. I have to work to see what they were really intended to mean. My children, however, are untainted by the modern retellings, so they tend to "see" more clearly than I sometimes.

I understand that some daughters are just very tempted to be vain, and I would never suggest stumbling a child. But we must keep Beauty and hold her fast, for she is the companion of the Gospel and without her the world is a dark and chilly place to live.
When I reread, I realized I had already answered my own question. I myself said that my children are not tainted by the Disney versions. I am, and my hesitation is based on all the faulty associations of my own mind, not the reality of princesses and ancient tales about them. In fact, my daughter only calls the Snow White dress a Snow White dress because her mother told her that was what it was.

To her, it is just a pretty dress.

My eyes were opened and I realized that this little one was simply enjoying the beauty of something. She loved the pretty dresses and the crowns, and she loved to see them not just on herself, but on her sister and her friends.

Now, affection for princesses is rather low on the list when it comes to love of Beauty, but what I see in this is something which can be developed, not something which should be crushed. It is innocent, and a joy.

So, we threw a princess party. Her grandparents gave her a beautiful new princess dress for the occasion. Her very exuberant little friend, who we adore, came dressed as Cinderella, and they wore crowns and tossed beanbag lady bugs onto flowers and had a grand time. To the dismay of the men in our family, we played opera music in the background {that is our official princess music}.

And it was beautiful. And it was fun. And her mother really needs to loosen up.

So, my little daughter is three now. What a year it has been, raising such a funny, happy child. She is a joy to us, princess dress and all.


a cake fit for a princess