26 February 2010

The Darndest Things: Circle Time Conversations

This week has been interesting. Apparently, Number Two got the memo on turning five, cranking up her participation and conversation level accordingly. It has been a delight, but I do find myself having to be deliberate about paying attention. I am so accustomed to this child being mostly quiet that I haven't trained myself to listen to her.

And so it goes.

Our verse for the week was I Timothy 5:4, 8, & 16:
But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God...But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel...If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
My first question on Monday morning was, "Who knows what a widow is?" We have discussed what widows are many times because Daughter A. is mortified that her Gran lives alone, and is sure to ask all about it after any visit with her. So, I was not surprised when A. threw both hands up in the air and bounced up and down saying, "I know! I know! I know!"

So we all prepared to listen.

And what ensued was a very elaborate description of a black widow spider.

I know I cannot laugh at this child, especially this child, but, my, it was difficult! Somehow, though, I was able to give the other definition of widow without deflating her too badly.

Our conversation throughout the week evolved, and sometime midweek we found ourselves discussing the concept of preparing your whole life for this endeavor. I told the children that, for instance, their father and I had tried to make sure our house was big enough to squish in a family member if we ever needed to. I turned to E. and mentioned that he would have to think of those things when he was a man making decisions for his own household.

His response?

"Um," as he shifted awkwardly in his seat, "I think I have decided to be a monk."

25 February 2010

Making Ambleside Work: The Gory Details

Amazon links are affiliate links. I love it when you click on those...so thanks!


I’m really looking into Ambleside Online and think it may be more appropriate for my children...

I have NO idea how to implement AO, I mean none. I feel like I’ve read the website cover to cover, but have I missed some big page that gives me weekly ideas or instructions on how to gather materials and organize my day? How in the world do you do your lesson planning? From where do you get your ideas and material? I get a nervous knot in my stomach everytime I think about actually implementing and going day to day. I guess for me, AO sounds beautiful and majestic in theory, but actually doing it just befuddles me. I do have all 6 of CM original volumes and have read/skimmed most of it.

Would you have pity on me and tell me…what am I missing????
The above is a portion of an email I recently received. Let me tell you, I have been there. Seriously. Only, my difficulty was more generalized. When my children were very young {as in: not yet school age}, I knew there would come a day when I needed to begin giving lessons daily, and I had no--and I mean no--idea in how to actually pull that off.

As a disclaimer, before I go on, I want you all to understand that I am not a complete and utter Charlotte Mason person. Our approach here is a fusion between Charlotte Mason's philosophy and Christian classicism. The reason for this is actually pretty subjective: I love them both, and I think they are mostly complimentary rather than at odds, and it suits our family perfectly. I give the disclaimer, though, because I don't want you to think that the advice I'm giving is 100% Charlotte Mason approved.

It isn't.

Now, I haven't read all of Mason's volumes {yet...I own them and I read them from time to time}, but so far I don't see anything about formal study of the entire Trivium, even though grammar is taught formally, and rhetoric seems to be taught almost intuitively. I love this, but I also plan to add in a couple text books, especially for logic. My plan is to use Martin Cothran's Material Logic and Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic, but never to replace any part of Ambleside Online; rather as an addition to it. All of this is to say that, as the years go by, I will probably "look" more classical than I do now.

Resources

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason or Ambleside Online, I have a list of quick helps for you:
  1. Anne White's An Introduction to Charlotte Mason. This is your best starting place if you have no clue what I'm talking about.
  2. If you are a big reader, then either get yourself a copy of Charlotte Mason's six volumes or read it free on the Ambleside Online website in a modernized version. Do not try and print this out! Mason wrote thousands and thousands of pages over her very long life and you will rue the day you tried to print this.
  3. If you want something more manageable, I have heard good things about A Charlotte Mason Companion, A Charlotte Mason Education, For the Children's Sake, or When Children Love to Learn. Just remember that whenever you read a book that isn't an original source, you are getting someone's perspective on that source, which may not be entirely the same thing. I haven't read any of these because I prefer Mason's own works, even though that means it'll take me a lifetime to read them all. However, some folks find them very helpful, and you might be one of them.
  4. There are a number of websites that you could check out to try and form a vision for what you want in your own home. My favorites are listed here.
  5. There are also blogs that deal with specific aspects of Mason's methods, such as nature study or art study. I understood the concept of nature study better after reading the blog Handbook of Nature Study, and I have also found the sister blog Harmony Art Mom occasionally helpful.

Gathering Materials

The number one easiest way to gather the materials for Ambleside Online would be to grab the booklist for the year you are doing and enter the titles on your favorite book-buying website, press "add to cart," enter necessary information, and quietly wait for everything to be delivered to your front door. God bless that UPS man.

Ahem.

Then, all you would need would be odds and ends, like something to use for a nature journal, some art supplies, and whatnot.

For me, though I have running lists, and when I buy books I usually have four windows open with which I am price-checking. I also enter books for the coming years on my PBS wishlist from time to time, so that I can gather as many as possible as we go.

But here are the important things to do when starting the early years:
  1. Start with the booklist{s} for the year{s} you are planning. You can find them using the links on Ambleside's curriculum main page. This is the bulk of what you need to use the curriculum. I know that some families use the library for this. I like owning the books in general, and I have three other children who will use them, so they are worth the investment to me. I buy many of our books used. Please, I beg of you, do not buy any books published by a company called Wilder. These books are often abridged, even though they don't declare it anywhere in their product information, and I have also read reviews complaining about the quality {i.e., typos, binding, etc.}.
  2. Print out your geography maps. I mentioned that I recently started using National Geographic Interactive MapMaker printable maps. Geography readings are from Holling C. Holling books in the early years, plus Marco Polo's journeys in Year Three, though you really can map whatever you take interest in as you go.
  3. Choose something for penmanship/copywork. Two years ago, I bought a font so that I could type up copywork worksheets until the time when my children are ready for their own commonplace books or reading journals. You can also do a google search and find free copywork pages, though I don't know if they'd last you a year.
  4. Choose a phonics program. Or, do it yourself using Bob Books. And, by the way, children don't always need reading instruction. With strong readers, you can watch for weaknesses, but I wouldn't subject a child to phonics unless they need it. Having the child read aloud to you will allow you to make sure they are not becoming a slipshod reader.
  5. Choose a math curriculum. For now, we use Math Mammoth plus Wrap-Ups.
  6. Choose a foreign language? I believe Mason suggested learning one French word per day or week or something in the early years. I don't know; we didn't start this until Year Two, and we are learning a tiny bit of Latin using Song School Latin and we've slacked on that lately, so writing this makes me feel guilty. Great.
  7. Choose a handicraft and buy/gather necessary supplies. We were going to do one per term, but we haven't gotten far enough along and will probably use two terms for the ones we are currently working on. Here is a list of ideas for very young children. General ideas can be found here.
  8. Make a wall timeline. We didn't do this in year one, but have really enjoyed it in year two. Ours was fairly inexpensive and easy to duplicate.
  9. Gather supplies for learning folksongs and hymns. Ambleside Online assigns a monthly hymn and folk song. I tend to choose other hymns because I have specific goals {like making sure the children first know the songs we sing in our congregation}. The Ambleside Online website often has links for the songs, and if not you can find what you need online, for free, using Google. In the past we have used YouTube to aid us in learning folk songs.
  10. Buy or download the music you need for each term's composer. Ambleside's composer section is here; one composer is assigned per term. I tend to just buy a CD from a composer and play it while the children are doing their chores or having quiet time, occasionally telling them the composer's name. This works fine until your CD player breaks. Ask me how I know.
  11. Find and purchase or print copies of the paintings for artist study. Ambleside assigns one artist per term, and information about that can be found here. As a general rule, you will study one painting for two weeks, and then move on, so that by the end of the term, you will have studied six paintings from the single artist. I tend to find the paintings via Google, download them, turn them into a .pdf file, and have them printed nicely by Office Depot. Olga's Gallery is a good place to look for paintings.
  12. Buy a nature journal and necessary supplies. You can use whatever medium you like. My oldest just began watercolor pencils for this; my second child uses crayons or colored pencils to color what I draw for her.

This is all you need in the early years. As the years go on, you are supposed to add in study of a musical instrument, lessons on Plutarch and Shakespeare, a foreign language in addition to Latin, formal grammar, and so on, but this list will get you through the first few years, I think.

Planning a Daily Schedule

Ambleside Online will tell you what you need to do in a week, but the day-to-day is up to each individual headmistress. I cannot tell you how everyone plans, but I can tell you what I do.

To begin with: Circle Time.

I first learned about the concept of Circle Time {not part of AO, but I use it to accomplish AO} from the Preschoolers and Peace site. This is how we start our day, every day, four days per week. During Circle Time, I cover just about everything that can be done with all children at the same time. So, for me that means prayer, Bible reading, manners training, poetry reading, hymn singing, folk song learning, artist study/art narration, history reading, and so on and so forth. Whatever from Ambleside Online, whatever from our personal goals, whatever can be shared in Circle Time, Circle Time is where it goes. I think that the only thing that can be done together which isn't on my list is Nature Study and that is because {1} I am terrible about doing this consistently and {2} it needs to be done out of doors while I prefer Circle Time indoors.

Circle Time has been the key to our success with AO, I think. Otherwise, it seems like this long, insurmountable list. Also, Circle Time is when my littles learn a bit about having lessons. If they are old enough to be awake, they are required to come to Circle Time and participate to the best of their ability. This has really prepared Daughter A. for kindergarten next year.

You can see an example of our Circle Time plans here.

The other parts of the day for E., who is my only full-time "student" right now are: math, copywork, "Ambleside Time" {where we do our actual AO readings and narration}, spelling, and grammar. I think that is it. Handicrafts are a part of our days, technically speaking, but they really come and go. We don't do them consistently, and we often find ourselves doing them on weekend afternoons instead of during the week. It isn't because they aren't important, but because I've found that when the children are in the mood, they just seem to do better at the whole thing, so I watch for opportunities and capitalize on them.

To organize Circle Time, I sit down with one paper divided into four days {four days, because we choose to do four days of lessons plus one day where we are out and about, either visiting relatives, serving in some small way, baking together, or taking a field trip} in front of me, plus a blank sheet divided by half-hours to use for a "master schedule" in order to play with a full day.

The first thing I do is look at the master schedule and fill in the known quantities: breakfast, lunch, chore time, etc. If I know that something always happens at a certain time {even the ending of my youngest child's nap}, I write it in. No sense fighting the inevitable. Once I've written all of this down, I can usually pinpoint my approximate starting time for Circle Time.

You can check out my Average Day Charts to see what we're doing and what we've done in our days so far.

Before I do anything else, I scribble in the things that I want done daily during Circle Time. For me, those are things like Bible, manners, poetry, singing review songs, and so on. Then, I have a third paper that has listed the things I want done weekly, and I start to assign those things a day on my Circle Time page. So, for instance, I have one day where Circle Time focuses on learning a new song, and another day that focuses on artist study/art narration, and so on. As long as my list for what I wanted to accomplish in Circle Time was thorough, this is usually successful on the first attempt.

In my planning for Ambleside Time, instead of working from a list, I am working from the Ambleside weekly schedule and breaking it up into days. I usually have all the books in front of me at that time so that I can check chapter lengths and make sure I'm not overloading a single day. The easiest thing to do is probably to just write what day of the week you want next to each assignment. I typically type up and print out our own official Ambleside Time Schedule, but it always starts from this sort of organizing: printing off the weekly schedule and dividing each week into days, keeping in mind that each reading will need to be narrated {unless it is geography, and then we do map work instead}.

I feel compelled to note that many families have found success in simply putting the weekly schedule onto a clipboard and checking off readings as they go. I am going to save that for when my son is ready to have more control over his schedule. For now, I enjoy having the readings spread fairly evenly over four days.

In Year Two, Ambleside Time takes us an average of 45 minutes per day, including narration time.

So, now you have a Circle Time schedule, an Ambleside schedule, and a master schedule. The master schedule has Circle Time planned in. This is where you have to figure out where to put Ambleside Time, and this totally depends on your family. Do you do it before everyone else wakes up {I have seriously met people who do this}? Late morning? During naptime when others are sleeping and you have uninterrupted time? Plan an hour, and then see how it goes. I think that Year One usually took us only thirty minutes per day, but then I have a fairly quick narrator who doesn't ask tons and tons of questions.

Lastly, you need to put in the things that have been left out: math, phonics, spelling, copywork, or whatever is on your list. {Mason suggested that copywork should only be as much as a child can write perfectly, so this might be only five or ten minutes.} In the end of all of this, you have built something similar to my Average Day Charts.

If your days vary a whole lot for some reason, you might try a chart for each day of lessons, making, for instance, an Average Monday Chart, an Average Tuesday Chart, and so on, if needed. I have found it helpful to block out 45 minutes during which we do...something. And then, for instance, on Tuesdays we go to swimming lessons, on Thursdays we read a fairy tale, or whatnot.

I do the bulk of this planning in the month or two prior to the beginning of the school year. I plan all of Ambleside Time in advance, and then I plan Circle Time one term at a time, however, the general feel of Circle Time remains the same throughout the year. What I am really changing up are things like manners, how we do poetry, or what type of read-alouds we are doing {if we do any at all in that time}.

Getting a Vision for Ambleside Online

One of aspects that makes AO so difficult to get our minds around, I think, is that it is so simple. I, for one, with my public school experience, imagined that things could only be learned if the teacher spent hours and hours of time planning what the children were going to learn. Mason had a completely different approach. She said the children feed on ideas, and AO becomes, then, their "food," so to speak.

We read these beautiful stories and the ideas are there for the taking. The children narrate, and as they go along the narrations become conversations, and much is learned, but this kind of learning cannot be planned. All that can be planned into the day is enough space for ideas to feasted on.

This has a feel about it that is akin to some descriptions of unschooling I have read, and yet it is not unschooling, if I understand unschooling properly, because the curriculum itself is orderly and planned out in advance by one who has authority over the child. However, I believe it shares one of the aims of unschooling, which is to grant the children a rich and enjoyable education.

Once I did a year of AO, I was truly amazed by its simplicity...and also by its brilliance. I keep coming back to what I have learned so far from my CiRCE lectures: nature. Mason, I think, firmly grasped the nature of the child, and always taught with this in mind.

Anyone else?

I know we have some other Amblesiders lurking around here, and some of you have far more years under your belt than I do. Anything I've missed? Any tips for us? And if any of you have past posts on how you do your planning, please link them in the comments.


__________________________
Read More:
-The updated version dealing with an older child.

24 February 2010

Wendell Berry and Living from a Place of Rest


What Are People For?: Essays
by Wendell Berry


It is almost embarrassing to post this after yesterday. If there were a land called High-Strung or Frantic, that is where I would have hailed from yesterday. What with rampant attitude problems among our younger members, and then the kitchen sink backing up in the middle of the day due to my ineptitude in using a garbage disposal properly, I had good cause for the almost-panic attack. We ended the evening on a high note by discovering mold in our liquid gold--our grassfed beef tallow. And why was there mold in the tallow? Well, apparently yours truly is functionally illiterate and cannot properly read storage directions which give important details such as "freeze."

Ahem.

However, post this I must, for most of it was written during my peaceful weekend, during which I achieved a nirvana-like state of harmony with the universe, especially the portion of the universe in which my kitchen resides. I didn't realize, at the time, that such things are fleeting.

Ahem. {Again.}

So, I've been reading through this collection of essays ever since they arrived {courtesy of my beloved PBS} a week or two ago. These are beautiful. I say this often, but Wendell Berry is very much worth reading, folks, so put him on your wishlists.

The first two "essays" in this collection are almost poems {Berry is also an accomplished poet, so I was not surprised to find this sort of fusion}. Called Damage and Healing, it is the latter than I have been pondering the past few days. In section three of Healing, Berry sets up a sort of antithesis. He holds up two qualities: Pride and Despair. He says that Despair "is the too-little of responsibility" while Pride "is the too-much." Instead of choosing between one or the other, however, he disposes of them both and introduces a third way: Good Work.

And then Berry opens the flood gates of the possiblity which lies in Good Work, and it is hard to keep up. Good Work, he says, removes loneliness by connecting us to others: those who went before us, those who come after us, and all the creatures around us. Good Work also grants us solitude, in which we experience Creation without loneliness. "One returns from solitude," Berry says, "laden with the gifts of circumstance."

And then Berry explains to us why the woods are so peaceful to us in the first place:
And having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest.

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.

In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and are without rest. {emphasis mine}
In other words, in the woods every creature has a rightful place, knows its rightful place, lives out its rightful place, and in this order is found rest.
One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:6
The poetic esssay Healing is Berry's own Ecclesiastes, in a lot of ways. For he seems to be saying that rest is found by discovering one's place within the created order and living within that place. However, he acknowledges that all the world cannot be brought into perfection instantaneously, that there remains a Sabbath rest which is to come. He says:
Seeing the work that is to be done, who can help wanting to be the one to do it?

But one is afraid that there will be no rest until the work is finished and the house is in order, the farm is in order, the town is in order, and all loved ones are well.

But it is pride that lies awake in the night with its desire and its grief.
Instead of worrying, he promotes rejoicing in the tasks at hand:
Rest and rejoicing belong to the task, and are its grace.
There is a section in Passionate Housewives Desperate for God {a book of which I am growing fond, but I despise the title, I do, I do!} that I didn't fully understand at first. It's called Being Mary in the Kitchen and it focuses on this same issue of Berry's, rejoicing in Good Work.
We can all be Mary, even if we don't have an hour to sit down for "quiet time."It's all in our attitude toward the things that need to be done and the people we are serving. If we view our husbands, families, and guests as so many leeches crying, "Give, give!" then we are not going to develop a godly joy as we serve them. If we resent the fact that our husbands sit down to read with the children while we are preparing supper, we are being harpies, just like Martha. Choose the better part. Be Mary in the kitchen. Sing praises while you sweep up those never-ending crumbs. Whistle hymns while you wipe down the bathroom. Meditate upon Scripture while you are folding that third pile of laundry.

[snip]

Be a Mary! When the laundry piles rise up in rebellion, the children don't do their chores right, or the kitchen sink never seems to quite empty itself, rejoice! Choose the better part, crank up the praise, and lay down your life.
As to delighting in work, Ecclesiastes 3 is appealed to:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
Rejoice and do good? Enjoy my Good Work?

This is something I have had pleasant tastes of, but have not mastered: that my place in God's order is Good, and the work He has given me is Good. And when I am living in this vein, very little depletes me. Sometimes in classical education, we talk about the concept of educating from a place of rest. Well, this is living from a place of rest--living in accordance with the created order, at peace with God and man.

Wendell Berry reminds us:
Order is the only possibility of rest.
Or, as Mrs. Alfred Gatty concluded:
"You've been very fond of talking of age and infirmity, and 'cumbering the ground,' and all that sort of thing. But what it means, is, quarrelling with your lot."

[snip]

"[T]hat's a good idea of the old gentleman that was here just now, and I shall try and remember it for future occasions, for it really appears to be true. 'Everything is useful in its place at the appointed time.' That was it, wasn't it?"

"Exactly. And, conscious as I feel just now of my own responsibility, I could almost add,...that I have a kind of sensation that everything is useful in its place, always, and at all times, though people mayn't always find it out."

-from Parables from Nature

23 February 2010

Art: Beginning a New Medium

I am not an artist. I had interest in perfecting those sorts of skills when I was younger, but I never took a class {that I can recall} other than the occasional painting day with my {talented, as much as she will deny it} Gran. I considered taking art in junior high until I discovered it had the reputation for being a "slacker" class.

And so, here I am, realizing the importance of artistic instruction, but not knowing where to find said instruction, without spending money and time that we are not ready to spend. We are a bit young for such things; one of us still takes two naps per day!

However, comma.

My oldest is ready.

He experiences this frustrated, restless sort of readiness, as if he would need to climb a mountain or perform some other extreme physical feat if I didn't teach him something new, and quickly.

So today we dug out the watercolor pencils from Christmas. They were a gift, appropriately enough, from Gran herself. And they were buried under weeks of Mommy being sick, poor things.

We stared at them. They stared back. Now what? I asked myself.

Here is the part where I thank the Almighty for YouTube. Whatever negative things may be said about it aside, I find it to be most helpful in these areas.

So this week, during Quiet Time, my son will be getting some instruction here in the office, courtesy of our computer. He'll sit on our futon, and use a sturdy tray table I have. He'll bring his special watercolor paper, his pencils, and borrow one of my paintbrushes.

And he will have some fun.

Care to take a look? We will start with a quick demo using the exact brand of pencil he owns, and then go on to some real instruction. I have found a few other "classes," but this is where we will start.







How do you tackle a new medium?

22 February 2010

Has it Been Five Years Already?

My, how time has flown by. Five years ago, I "delivered" you by planned C-section, and you were, unbeknownst to me at the time, my easiest delivery ever, even if you were my most difficult pregnancy. We knew before you were born that you would be a delight, and you have always been so.

How terrified I was of you when you began crawling at four months old! I never realized it was because you loved your brother so much that you just had to get closer to him. And even now, you are God's gift to him, and I am amazed at how much you love him.

You are a good sister.

I seriously cannot believe you are five years old. I have asked you more than once if you would consider staying four for a while yet, but you have concluded that it is impossible. I told your father I feel like all of you children are water, slipping through my fingers, as much as I try to make ice and freeze time, if just for a moment.

And here we are. You, a silly, unserious, giggly little thing, trying your best to learn to read. You, so ready to laugh. You, so sweetly mothering your dolls and pretending to care for the sick.

You.

Five years old.

Will the next five years fly by just this fast? Does it always feel like a whirlwind?

I never knew that love for a child would grow with each passing year, but at this rate your father and I will be ready to burst by the time you are grown.

Before you were born, we caught a glimpse of you: magical, happy, elven almost.

And so you are.

Happy birthday, darling.

20 February 2010

Quotables: Angels in the Architecture


Angels in the Architecture:
A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth
by Douglas Jones and Doug Wilson

Part of learning to celebrate includes learning how to splurge and not be so tightly utilitarian. Our culture is so wicked in its neglect of savings and its slavery to plastic credit that we, with some right, run the other direction. But if your house is in order, it's time to learn how to splurge at times. Beauty isn't cheap... {p. 83-84}
The Bible tells us that other spiritual authorities exist, but that they are fallible and penultimate. Further, these lesser spiritual authorities are not just "allowed," they are inescapable. The question is not whether we shall have them, but which of them we will have. We do not understand that when we have removed all traces of Nicean orthodoxy, this does not leave us standing in a fresh meadow with a newly-discovered Bible, but rather with the ethereal magisterium of the latest heretical balloon juice cooked up at the Christian Booksellers Association, which never met a wind of doctrine it didn't like. {p. 99-100}

19 February 2010

Blank Maps

My aunt was kind enough to get us a large, wall-sized laminated map for our geography lessons. However, I was still looking for something that was lap-sized, something they could hold an touch during our reading of Holling C. Holling's Seabird.

Seabird is lovely, teaching geography through story as only Holling could. Generally, during a Holling reading, I trace the path of the main character {in this instance, an Ivory Gull whose journey begins in Greenland} on the map on the wall using a whiteboard marker. If the children have a blank map on their laps, they can copy what I have done onto their own pages, reinforcing the lesson. Once they are tall enough {or I have it set up better, perhaps}, they will be able to take turns drawing the journey paths on the wall map.

Anyhow, I have been on the lookout for a one-stop website from which to print maps. In the past, I believe I posted a link to some blank maps that would work for one specific Holling work, but I wanted something better. I wanted to be able to print whatever I needed, all from one source. North America? The whole world? A specific state?

I wanted it all.

And I do believe I've found it.

Enter National Geographic's MapMaker. This site is designed for map printing. There are three levels of "zoom," as I like to think of it: the whole world, by continent, or an individual country. I can't zoom into an individual U.S. state, but I assume that I could figure out how to cut the map down to what I want and then blow it up to fit a page if I really needed something so specific.

This is going to be perfect for when we study the journeys of Marco Polo in Year Three.

***

For those of you who wonder about this sort of thing: an average geography lesson, in which we read one chapter from a Holling book and trace the journey discussed, takes between ten and fifteen minutes. We average one of these lessons per week, though I do notice the children "practicing" with their maps on their own at times.

18 February 2010

New Release!!


Apologetics Study Bible For Students

It had been so long since Si submitted his articles for this Bible that I had sort of forgotten about it. I can't forget any longer, though--his copy arrived in the mail this week. It looks great! I love that someone decided to put together something that answers some of the tough questions students ask.

Looking through the contributers list was a bit of a walk down memory lane. This Bible was edited by Sean McDowell, who was kind enough to author the foreward for my husband's book. McDowell is a Biola and Talbot alum, just like Si and myself. Because a Biolan was at the reigns of this project, the contributers included favorite professors like Alan Hultberg, Walt Russell {my all-time favorite!}, Clint Arnold, and John Mark Reynolds. Some of you readers might also recognize former classmates, such as Greg Koukl, Ryan Sharp, and, of course, my beloved.

Currently, I am asking my husband to beg for a copy or two that I can throw a blog contest for. If anything materializes, you read it here first.

Apologetics Study Bible For Students is now available almost everywhere you buy books.

17 February 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {How Are Strong Women Made?}

Gosh, this next section is a toughie. I have written and rewritten this post. I have deleted it entirely and begun afresh. Everything in my heart, everything I think I've learned, sounds dull and hollow when I try and transfer it to the page. After thinking through this a bit, I decided that, as all of my thoughts were inspired by the thoughts of other people, why not present those thoughts instead?

Not that I won't comment at all, but I think I'll start with a lot of quotes.

This, as I promised, is covering the call-out section on pages 134 and 135 entitled The Arrival of a New Human Bean, the title of which, as it is not a play on words, has already been adequately mocked in a previous post.

Ahem.

I wanted to go through the whole section, but as this is a book on introverts, let's narrow it down and look at the words spoken to introverts:
The Introvert Advantage
by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.
It is important to note your temperament temperature. Focusing twenty-four hours a day on the needs of another being can be extraordinarily taxing. Introverted moms need to find ways to take breaks and be completely alone or shift into a relaxing adult activity.

[snip] If you are introverted and need time away from your infant, adjust your schedule accordingly. Don't feel guilty. Find the temperature zone you require and make the time to nurture yourself. Your infant and you will be better for it.
Okay. Let's break this into parts, staring with this: Focusing twenty-four hours a day on the needs of another being can be extraordinarily taxing.
[Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

II Corinthians 5:15
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

-Philippians 2:3-4
Introverted moms need to find ways to take breaks and be completely alone or shift into a relaxing adult activity.
If I strive for a "me-centered" life while I am surrounded by a family who needs me, then I will find myself frustrated and desperate indeed.

-Stacy McDonald in Passionate Housewives Desperate for God
God's ways are not our ways, and what the Bible calls us to do is, frankly, backwards in the world's eyes. Be least in order to be the greatest? Die to live? Go last to be first? Christ's example is most convicting: God of creation and Lord of all, He made Himself "of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" {Philippians 2:7-8}...Become a servant. humble yourself. Wash the feet of complaining followers. Die to self daily. Do we love God's Word enough to be faithful to it even when it is difficult? Or are we only willing to embrace it when it makes us happy or fulfills a need? Jesus said that if we loved Him, we would obey His commandments--and not just the ones we like.

-Jennie Chancey in Passionate Housewives Desperate for God
If you are introverted and need time away from your infant, adjust your schedule accordingly. Don't feel guilty.
There are, however, still some married couples who understand themselves as belonging to their marriage, to each other, and to their children. What they have they have in common, and so, to them, helping each other does not seem merely to damage their ability to compete against each other. To them, "mine" is not so powerful or necessary a pronoun as "ours."

--Wendell Berry, in the essay Feminism, the Body, and the Machine in What Are People For?
Although the Enchanted Ground was a pleasant place, in which pilgrims were tempted to rest after the toils of their journey, they sometimes found the path across it full of difficulty and trouble.

The air was so warm and still that it made everyone feel sleepy, and the servants of the Wicked Prince had built many little arbors in the hope that foolish pilgrims would lie down to rest in them, and so fall into the hands of their enemies.

[snip]

It was now so dark that the pilgrims could scarcely find their way, so they begged Greatheart to light his lantern. With this to guide and cheer them they traveled more comfortably, but the girls and the two little boys were growing very tired, and they began to pray to the King to help them in their weariness.

Presently a cool, fresh breeze sprang up, and as it blew across the plain the air became clearer, and although the moon was still hidden by the clouds, the children could see each other as they walked along.

"Have we nearly crossed the plain?" asked Christiana.

"Not yet," replied Greatheart; "but this is your last night of trouble. Tomorrow we shall reach the Land of Delight, and you will be able to rest there without fear of danger."

-Little Pilgrim's Progress
Find the temperature zone you require and make the time to nurture yourself. Your infant and you will be better for it.
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.

I Thessalonians 2:7
Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.

-Isaiah 49:15
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."

Luke 9:23-24

Flinching at Me-Time

Whenever I read something that {1} hints at "me-time" and {2} hints that such "me-time" is a need and/or {3} hints that leaving a baby will actually increase a baby's happiness, I flinch. Every single time, I flinch. Babies want their mommies.

Period.

I am not saying that babies will never need to be left for any reason whatever, but it is completely nonsensical to act as if leaving Baby is going to make Baby happy.

The real premise behind these sorts of assertions is the "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" premise, and the other side of the coin is also true in this case: If Mama wants to make everybody miserable until she gets her way, she can, and she likely will.

I feel like I've been in transition again lately, as far as my perspective on these things goes. It was like I woke up to my own lack of reliance upon the Lord. I am learning, once again, to call upon Him in my times of trouble, no matter how small my troubles might be.

Time alone comes and goes in life, and I don't think it is helpful nor healthy for me to build my happiness upon such an inadequate foundation. I am also not sure that, introverted though I may be, I should insist that being alone is the only way I can be rejuvenated. This is rather unimaginative, especially when compared to this:
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

-Matthew 11:28
And also:
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.

-Isaiah 40:29
And finally:
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

-I Peter 5:7
Do I really believe that I can run and not grow weary? Do I believe that God is more powerful than my own introverted energy levels? I've been pondering this question a lot lately.

There is a balance, obviously, for He also created me to be a certain way. However, when what is asked of me in my calling of motherhood is more than it seems I can bear, do I believe He will strengthen me and help me in the journey? For me, it has become a question of faith.

On whose strength will I rely?

And, of course, here we intersect with the idea of God sending Help. I remember distinctly one day when everyone seemed to be sick and I really didn't think I had the energy and time to make lunch and I prayed...and within an hour there was a phone call with an offer to deliver lunch. Trusting in God and relying on Him does not mean we always carry our burdens alone.

The "Need" to Escape

What I question here is the reinforcing of the cultural idea that escaping is ever a helpful thing to do. Whether the temptation is to run from grief, conflict, duty, or whatever, I do not believe that escaping results in stronger character.

I remember one time having a professor in college who spoke on grief. He said that the tendency in our culture is to run from trials. He didn't want to do that, and when time came for him to suffer a great grief, he did his best to embrace it. He felt it, and he felt it powerfully, and he came out on the other side...refined.

I often think this in regard to the "trial" of early motherhood, and I'll tell you why.

Even though I wanted to become a mother, I found myself kicking and screaming during my first year of motherhood.

You see, I was extremely selfish and hadn't realized it. This little person made many demands on my life, and frankly I found it a little annoying. God was extremely gracious to me in that He forced me to get over myself. To this day, I can remember the feeling, this tightness in my chest. My rebellion against giving myself wholly in service to another person was a tangible physical sensation. Unfortunately {or fortunately, as it turned out}, we did not have the physical resources for me to escape. We did not live close to family, and I couldn't afford a sitter. We couldn't afford for me to drive many places and meet friends for lunch. I remember on a particularly hot day that I walked {with Baby sleeping in his stroller} to Starbucks so that I could enjoy their air conditioning, and I bought the smallest, cheapest cup of iced tea they had, so that I didn't feel like a free-loader.

I explain this only to illustrate that there was no means of escape, especially since I was completely unwilling to leave my child with a stranger. I was torn within myself: I loved him enough to protect him from those who didn't love him, and yet I rebelled against what it took to do right by him.

He was fourteen months old before we moved out of this situation. You know what happened during this time? I got tougher. I learned to submit to God's call on my life. He had made me a mother, and He forced me to become a decent one. He used a strong arm with me, and I am forever grateful for this. All of our other children have benefitted from this work of God in my life.

A mother's ability to handle what it sometimes takes to be a mother is strengthened when much is asked of her...if she {with God's help} rises to the task. Somewhere inside of ourselves, I think we have a mothering muscle. If we quit and run away each time extra weight is put on, we will never grow.

The number one lesson I think I have been learning lately is to pray for strength. In motherhood, it doesn't take long to come to the end of ourselves, no? Do you know where tough mommies come from? God-given weight-bearing excercise of that mommy muscle. There is no way around it.

I am not tough yet. I know this because I have met far too many women who are tougher than I am. However, I know that any measure of perseverance or strength that I have gained over these years is due to the fact that God has often forced me to meet my difficulties head-on.

I once had an acquaintance who told me that she went back to work because she just couldn't stand it at home with the baby. When her second was born, she decided that mothering the children herself was the right thing to do. However, it was an uphill battle because, in escaping from her first child, she had never gained the strength it took to mother.

I do wonder how many times we miss out on gaining strong arms because we decide to avoid hard things.

What If?

What if we are actually refined by the things we find difficult? What if we actually become better--better mothers, better wives, better women--by persevering when something is hard for us? What if we learned to build lives we didn't feel like we needed to escape? What if this means learning to love things we do not naturally love? What if this is God's education for us: cultivating our affections, directing them in the way they should go? What if we learned to be content? What if we asked ourselves not what we think we need today, but how we can serve others?

What if being tired at the end of a long day isn't such a bad thing after all?

____________________
Possibly Related:
Unnecessary Dates and Vacations
Thoughts on "Me Time"

16 February 2010

A Beautiful Day...

For those of you who don't know, Central California is beautiful in February. By summer, all the green will have dried to a brown crisp, a regular fire hazard, but for now, the hills and mountains surrounding our valley look something akin to Si's pictures from his trips to Ireland. I have been assured, however, that it is much warmer here.

When we were invited out to a friend's family ranch in Lost Hills, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I've been under the weather for a while now, and I didn't think I was in the mood. But by Sunday, I had improved a bit, and some fresh air and a change of scenery seemed in order...even if it did mean I'd have to man up and learn to shoot a shotgun.

Now, the trick in going to Lost Hills is to be able to find them, of course.


We drove along a road, fenced in from either side. The fences mostly keep cows in rather than keeping people out. I loved the directions we received: turn left in three miles, then left again when you see the yellow gate, then drive on the dirt road, turning left at the "T" and right at the "Y". Just finding this place felt like an adventure.

As we neared the yellow gate, we found some of those missing hills.



It doesn't rain much here, and as you can see, the tops of the hills don't grow much to speak of.

The cows saw us coming.



Apparently, they are tended by men driving white trucks, so they were pretty excited to see our white Suburban. Everyone was thrilled to see the herd run past.



Our day started with gun safety training for everyone, even, or maybe especially, the little ones. We had to learn four rules:
  1. Always treat a gun as if it is loaded.
  2. Never point a gun at something you aren't willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard.
  4. Know your target and what's beyond it.
Then, we ate lunch. And then the little boys disappeared, not to be seen for a long time. When they returned, they were red in the face from conquering the ranch's three steep hills, and ready for shooting lessons. We took a tour of the 80-plus acre ranch, which is primarily used for a shooting range. We hiked too far with six of the children. I, reluctantly, got those shotgun lessons over. And then a friend and I practiced archery. I feel a new hobby coming on. I instantly wanted to be Queen Lucy.

I want my own bow and arrows, Husband. Are you reading this?

While we shot our arrows into a target, a handful of little girls climbed the nearby incline. Here are a couple of them.



In all, a good day.

Going to a place like this reminds me how confined children are when they are locked inside suburbia.

12 February 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {Know Your Child's Temperament}


The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

Motherhood is its own animal, and I'm sure that extroverted mothers are quite distinct from introverted mothers. I am equally sure that if the temperament of a child is opposite from his mother, there will be a learning curve.

I often approach motherhood from the position of a student. When a baby is first born in our house, I tell myself that I am the student of this baby. What I mean is, my job is to figure Baby out. What does he need each day? Does he like to be held? Or does he prefer to be sat somewhere where he can watch his brothers and sisters playing? How much sleep does he need? Is he sensitive to various stimuli {i.e., temperature, loud noises, etc.}?

As Baby grows, my "job" remains the same, to some extent, but I also begin to look for areas where this child excels, as well as areas where the child is going to have to work hard. Is she fearful? Is he insensitive? Does she have a strength in math? Does he need to learn to enunciate and speak up?

I have even asked myself whether my children were introverted or extroverted. I knew my firstborn was an introvert from very early on. As an infant, he would drop off to sleep whenever he was overstimulated, and then be cranky later in the day. Conversely, I often wonder if my youngest will end up being extroverted. It's hard to tell, but my, he is sure excited whenever I tell him it is time to go anywhere. He loves to look out the window when I'm driving, and he yells and points at things I don't remember any of my other children noticing at his age.

I would think that, just like any other aspect of a child, it is good for a mother to be aware of her child's temperament. It is something to consider when she is assessing the situation with her children. If a child seems whiny, cranky, emotional, drained, or some other something that it seems a happy child shouldn't be, assessing temperament might help. In my house, I know that I need to first think about allergies if I am seeing these symptoms in a child. It seems reasonable to me that some families will need to consider temperament in the same situations, especially if they are full of a lot of more extreme personality types.

Dr. Laney gives this example:
Another client of mine, Hayley, who was on the far end of the extroverted continuum, had a four-year-old son, Ben, who was sensitive and quite introverted. She came to see me because she thought something was very wrong with Ben. She thought he might even be autistic. She couldn't understand why he looked dazed and cried so much. Then for ten to fifteen minutes she started describing their days together. It was like running a marathon. Go here, go there, do this, do that.

I stopped her as she listed more of the "fun" things she had planned for their upcoming family outing: miniature golf, the arcade, and then Chuck E. Cheese for lunch...I said, "It sounds as if Ben might be a little overstimulated...[I]t sounds to me like you are extroverted and Bed is introverted. All of this activity is overstimulating to him. Ben zones out or cries to signal he's had way too much."
There is a section in this chapter that can help a mother try to pinpoint her child's temperament type. I would only caution this in one way: let's not hasten to label those children. Babies go through stages where they are more friendly or more clingy with Mom. Children can act differently due to health issues, family issues, or how tired they are. I have noticed more than once that who I thought I had on my hands as a toddler wasn't quite the same at preschool age...it was close, but not exact. This is part of the adventure: children are dynamic, rather than stagnant, creatures.

More Tips and Techniques

Again, the section on parenting didn't seem to use the word love at all, if I was paying correct attention. After the marriage chapter, I didn't really expect it, so I don't really have a lot to say about it.

In general, I think it might be somewhat helpful to read this chapter. It might offer a bit of insight, etc. In general, I think Christians have to be careful when reading mothering advice from someone who does not view child rearing covenantally. What I mean is, the perspective here is not one which assumes that child rearing is a form of discipleship. This means that if there is a piece of advice which I found particularly appealing, I'd want to compare it to Scripture before actually applying it.

I have a sense that there is a difference between knowing and respecting a child's temperament on the one hand, and coddling said temperament on the other, and I haven't decided if this book crosses that line or not. In general, I don't think that the energy level of my child should be the guiding factor when I make decisions concerning that child. Sometimes a child needs to learn when to rest, and sometimes a child needs to learn to toughen up, and I'm pretty sure it is an art and a gift of God to be able to tell the difference.

Coming Up

In my next post on this subject, we shall tackle the callout on pages 134-135 entitled A New Human Bean. I thought initially this title would be a play on words, but, alas, the author or editor simply failed to reinforce the idea that humans are beings.

11 February 2010

Homemade Ear Drops

I was one of those children with chronic ear infections. I was even hospitalized for them twice, they were so bad. It was, I think, an almost constant source of frustration for my parents, especially since not only winter cold season aggravated my ears, but also summer swimming activities.

Finally, when I suppose I was nine or ten, my parents finally decided to pursue a specialist. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with a physical defect that caused me to be prone to ear infections, and we were given a recipe for homemade ear drops.

I'm not going to say I never had another ear infection after we were given this simple recipe, but I don't remember having one. The instructions said to use two or three drops after swimming, but in college I remember using them whenever my ear ached even a bit.

Last night, I could have kicked myself when our four-year-old appeared in our room whimpering about an aching ear. After all, she's been swimming for, I think, six weeks now, and I never bothered to make up a batch of drops, and she is our child who was most prone to ear infections as a baby.

So, this morning, first thing, I whipped up a batch. I had a nice little dropper bottle leftover from a homeopathic remedy made for us by a certain favorite doctor of ours.

I plan to use the drops three times today on the four-year-old, and also on the resident toddler, who woke up yesterday morning crying "Ow! Ow! Ow!" We have all had a nasty cold this week, I am still sick, and I wouldn't be surprised if his ears are tender, too.

Here is the recipe. Be careful. It is so simple that you might miss it:
1/3 cup white vinegar + 1 tsp. rubbing alcohol
Actually, the original recipe was for a pint, but who has ever seen a dropper bottle that was pint sized? I certainly haven't, and so I reduced the recipe to something smaller. I usually put the two or three drops in one ear while they are lying on their sides {if it is a toddler, I have a wrestling match to make sure this happens}, and have them lie there for a minute or two. After this, they can sit up and let whatever is leftover run out onto a tissue. Then, we do the other side.

This recipe was only supposed to be for after swimming, but, like I said, I've used it whenever I wanted to avoid antibiotics {which is to say, always}, and it has worked for me with consistently wonderful results.

Enjoy!

Warning: this recipe ought not be used if the ear drum has burst or is otherwise compromised. This post is not a substitute for a visit with a real doctor!

10 February 2010

Quotables: What Are People For?


What Are People For?
by Wendell Berry

Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate "relationship" involving {ideally} two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the "married" couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.

-from the essay Feminism, the Body, and the Machine

09 February 2010

Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {What's Love Got to do With It?}


The Introvert Advantage:
How to Thrive in an Extrovert World

by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

I don't think I've ever read a chapter on dating and marriage which didn't use the word love, but this one didn't. At least, I don't think it did. I didn't really notice this problem until the end. I just kept waiting and thinking that love would come up. But it didn't. So then I scanned back through the chapter. There was a single usage that I could find...in a quote preceding the section on dating.

This means that in all the marital advice given in this chapter, love is never a key player.

As I read this chapter, I felt like I was encountering a foreign country. The author speaks English, yes, but she thinks about these things so differently than I do that we might as well be from two different planets.

Now, I just can't believe that love is not a key player in how the author behaves within her own marriage. She explains near the end of her chapter that she and her husband have been living together for thirty-eight years. I just don't think that two people can conquer the difficulties involved in that amount of time together sans love.

After all, love never fails.

Unfortunately, love, this ultimate key to marriage, is missing from all of Dr. Laney's advice.

On Dating

I am not a huge fan of dating as a philosophy for meeting a husband. I don't want to get into my own views on dating here because they don't have a lot to do with the topic of introversion and extroversion. With this said, I can see how the characteristics of introversion and extroversion would change the dynamic when it comes to moving toward marriage. The author obviously sees the birth of a marriage--which is to say, the birth of a new family--as an event almost completely isolated from the community {or communities} to which the two individuals belong.

The dating advice focuses a lot on energy management, avoiding getting overwhelmed, and so on. Because I mostly experienced dating with people I already knew well {for instance, my husband and I were friends for years before our "first date"}, I don't really know if this advice is helpful in a practical sense or not. If any of you have reflections on the dating portion, I'd be interested to hear them. I had this underlying Red Flag feeling, but I was never able to put my finger on what it was {other than the obvious difference in philosophy}.

Temperament Combinations and Their Impact on Marriages

The author spends a number of pages discussing these combinations: introverted husband and extroverted wife, extroverted husband and introverted wife, and both husband and wife introverted. {She doesn't discuss extrovert/extrovert because this is a book about introverts.}

It's ironic because she tries to say that homosexual relationships are impacted in the same way, but then goes to all the trouble of explaining that there is a difference between these three combinations. Her logic, in other words, doesn't follow. How could it be the same if she needs to spell out a difference between having, for instance, an introverted husband and an extroverted husband. Apparently, gender has an impact on this issue.

But Dr. Laney is the quintessential egalitarian: the sexes are completely and utterly interchangeable. This means that many marital difficulties are due to "our social conditioning."

Yes, I'm serious. We evolved, and gender roles and differences are a result of social conditioning.

I'm thinking she doesn't have sons.

The first combination she tackles is introverted husband and extroverted wife. Here is probably the most important fact about this combination: research suggests that this combination has the most serious conflicts in their relationship. This is good to know, especially if you find yourself in this situation.

The author says that the reason for the conflict is because the combination "goes against our social condition." I disagree, of course, but what she goes on to say is important:
Introverted men can feel overwhelmed, intimidated, and unheard by extroverted women. And extroverted women may believe that the introverted man's quiet nature means he is weak, submissive, or unprotective. They can also feel lonely and understimulated by the relationship.
The author then details a counseling session with just such a combination. In the process, we see the wife dishonor and disrespect her husband--even calling him a wimp. The husband explains what he would like to see in the relationship, doesn't seem to expect respect from his wife, and the wife is in obvious and complete rebellion against him.

And then the author explains that all of their problems stem from the fact that "underneath this fight they both feel flawed." They "feel shame" about their basic temperaments, and "don't think they are lovable for who they are."

We will come back to some of this, but I want to touch on something the author says near the end of this part, that the husband lacks traditional masculine traits. I wish she had shared more about the husband, because I don't see any reason to think that introversion is anything of the sort. In fact, we have a cultural saying {"he's the strong, silent type"} to describe the introverted man.

The problem might come with the woman trying to fill the quiet space in their life together with her own power, or perhaps with the husband refusing to guide and direct their home, but neither of these is a direct result of introversion or extroversion.

I am saying this because I find my thoughts circling around a key question: What does it mean {or not mean} to follow Christ as an introvert? I think each of the 'verts has their own peculiar strengths and weaknesses, and to know ourselves in this way allows us to be attuned to these things. However, this books lends itself to concluding that "I am just made this way," when in reality there are specific temptations from which to flee, and also specific graces given to us in our strengths, which are to be used for His glory.

The author says that the combination of extroverted husband and introverted wife is the most common. She said something I find to be true in my own home:
The extroverted husband often gets most of his extroverted needs met at work, so by the time he comes home he wants some downtime...His introverted wife, on the other hand, looks to him to fill her extroverted needs, because she's comfortable with him. She wants intimate conversation. From the outside, it looks as if the husband is the one who's introverted and the wife is the one who's extroverted.
Again, the author gives an example from counseling, and again I was pretty convinced there were other things going on apart from temperament type, even though the argument itself essentially revolved around a temperament issue.

The last combination given was where both husband and wife are introverts. She explains that this combination is going to have the fewest conflicts because they understand each other and do things in a similar way. Their biggest weakness is that they may build a very small world for themselves, and may "rely on each other for too many emotional needs." What I saw in her examples were two weaknesses of this type: {1} a tendency to not participate in a larger community and {2} a tendency toward idolatry {making each other the whole world}.

In all of these things, it seems to me that the Gospel is the only true remedy.

A Note on Methods

Before I go on and share the author's general methods for improving the marital relationship, I want to note something that I think is important. Much of her advice sounds decent, or would look decent when worked out practically. I actually take little issue with the advice per se. My objection comes into play in regard to faith.

As Christians, we believe that love is the foundation of the marital relationship. God is love, love is the substance of the relationship within the Holy Trinity, and we {male and female together} are made in this image.

So, when I deal with difficulties which come up in my own marriage, the first issue I deal with inside of myself is love. Am I really loving my husband? Are the things I want to do or say motivated by love?

When I read the advice in this book, it seems very scientific and calculated, as if a vibrant relationship were a goal I could reach by knowing the mechanics of relationships and tinkering accordingly with the parts. It reminds me, actually, of education. Are we going to use a sterile "method" or are we going to chase wisdom through love? On a standardized test, these two approaches might yield similar scores, but they come from a different place within the heart, and, in the end, produce a different type of person. I'll discuss this in more detail as we move through her list.

Five Steps to Improving Any Introverted/Extroverted Combination Relationship

  1. Try On Each Other's Specs. What she means is, try to see things from the other person's perspective. I think this is wonderful advice. However, let's talk about motives for a minute. I don't try to see things from my husband's perspective because I want a "good relationship" with him. I want to see what he sees because of something I learned from Sheldon Vanauken years and years ago: I love him {my husband, not Vanauken}. Because I love him, what he sees is worth seeing, his perspective is worth knowing, and what he loves must be worth loving.

    Because I love him, I will learn to love like him, and he like me, over time.

    If our method doesn't pour forth from a heart full of love, it is nothing but an empty technique, or an interesting experiment in perspective.
  2. Try Five Easy Steps to Resolve Couple Conflict. These were pretty basic, nothing very striking or original. Again, I wish we could start from love. Love is the motivation for reconciling in the first place.
  3. Bridge the Gaps. This is basically a "learn how to communicate" list for introverts and extroverts. All married couples have to learn how the other person communicates, and what is the best way to communicate with that person. I appreciated that she mentioned trying to communicate with an introvert in writing at times. Writing is an easier mode of communication for me, and I gather that it is for a lot of introverts.
  4. Take Turns Getting Your Way. I actually laughed out loud when I read this one. It just sounds so...selfish...as if the purpose of the marriage was to get my way, but since we are different we will just have to take turns! Here is where my comment earlier applies most. I already mentioned the idea that it is worth learning to love what my husband loves because I love him, and so there must be something in the thing worth loving. To apply that here, let's say we were really very opposite. It would be kind, loving and gracious to learn to take turns, alternating, for instance, quiet evenings with more exciting or noisy evenings.

      TIME OUT: Can I just say that the "problems" she keeps discussing in these marriages seems to be something only the affluent could manage to have? Around here, if we are in an extroverted mood, we mainly indulge this Amish-style: we "go visiting" or invite others to come and visit us.


    Moving on, if we were to decide alternating in the way the author suggests, we'd likely describe it as taking turns giving or submitting to one another. Or we would just say we're each trying to love each other better.

    To call it "getting my way" is to frame the whole arrangement from the perspective of a selfish heart--seeking myself, my needs met, and so on. Worked out, it might all look the same, but I guarantee that intangibles {love, generosity, selfishness, etc.} will matter over the long run.
  5. Appreciate Your Differences. This was the best, and final, advice. Dr. Laney mentions how thankful she is for the many adventures she has had because she is married to an extrovert. She mentions what a "dull world" it would be if all people were exactly the same. I completely agree. Though introverts and extroverts both need to learn to grow up in Christ, the resulting maturity won't all look the same. God has made a great variety, and He delights in it. We reflect His heart when we learn to delight in it, too.

08 February 2010

My Approach to Organizing the Library

How in the world does one decide where to put a book, once one has plenty of shelf options? This was a predominant question in our home for the past three weeks. We are almost done with it; would already be done with it were the lady of the house {1} not running a fever right now and {2} {ahem} not so inclined to read five to ten books at once, and carry said books off to all corners of the house.

I just found three books on my nightstand last night. Plus, I realized we had forgotten our books in the Cabinet Beautiful when we were entering our books into our Shelfari account.

Sigh. What fun, what absolute pleasure it has been to reacquaint myself with our entire library. {It is an especially attractive use of time while sick.} I had forgotten how many old friends were nestled among the new.

More than once during this process, I found myself sitting with a book on my lap that could fit anywhere.

Hello, Book, I'd think. Where do you belong? Are you Christian Living? Worldview and culture? Sociology? Philosophy?

Where does one category end and another begin? And should Wendell Berry be endowed with his own shelf?

I found that the organizing went much easier once I had affixed the boundaries of our categories into my mind. For instance, Philosophy became a place to store our volumes for the study of the classic works of philosophy proper {like Plato}, an ethics book or two that were specifically covering ethics {rather than something more general like worldview and culture issues}, metaphysics, and epistemology. However, all logic textbooks went on my Classical Learning shelf.

A lot of folks might not have a Worldview and Culture shelf, but that is my husband's area of training and study, so we do. I found myself limiting those books very strictly. They are not books upon culture in general; that is Sociology. They are not books covering various worldviews from a non-judgmental perspective; that might be History and Politics, or perhaps Sociology again, or wherever else they best fit. These books are all the type of books we'd actually refer someone to who was studying some sort of worldview-type issue.

Worldview, generally speaking, is Metaphysics for the layman, so I also tried to make that a mental boundary: is this something that is accessible to most people? Or is this a college-level work that requires a lot of prerequisite knowledge? Also, is the focus of this book being thoughtful in action {worldview} or being active in thought {more along the lines of philosophy proper}.

When we arrived at fiction, we reached the same dilemma: what is fiction and how is it different from juvenile fiction? Some books are obviously juvenile {here I am thinking of The Trumpet of the Swan or Charlotte's Web} while others are obviously for adults and older children capable of thinking at higher levels {such as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Anna Karenina}, so many choices are obvious. What I found is that while I was assigning the more obvious books a shelf, the divisions became more clear in my mind. For instance, I decided that adult fiction contains books I wouldn't be giving the children before they were in their teens. I ended up with two shelves of juvenile fiction: books our readers are allowed to grab now, and books they will need to ask about. Some of these latter books already have cards in them stating the approximate a reader must be in order to read them. Others I have not pre-read yet, but children are free to put them on my Future Reading shelf and I will make a decision shortly.

Some shelves invent themselves, as homemaking ended up combined with gardening because I had no need for two separate shelves. Others, like Christian Living, end up being a catch-all: if they aren't really theology, and they aren't really worldview, but they definitely have a Christian bent to them, then Christian Living it is. Some Christian Living books here are also books we do not love, but keep because of they were a gift from someone special and contain a meaningful inscription, or a book that we have since grown out of, but we keep due because of a strange combination of affection and nostalgia.

Throwing Away, Swapping Away, and Selling

We culled a lot of books; at least twenty, from what I can tell. Those that were thrown away were in such bad condition they were no longer readable {thanks to a certain resident toddler whose name I shall not mention}. Selling and swapping books met the same criteria; I only sell books I can make a profit on. {I made six dollars last week on a wonderful hardback.} So, books were listed for sale or swap based on two major criteria: {1} We had more than one copy of the book and didn't foresee it being a good gift to anyone in the near future, or {2} they didn't really "fit" with our goals for our library.

We want our library to be a treasury of, for the most part, really good books. I am trying to be selective. When I was a teenager, I was very attracted to what Charlotte Mason would have deemed twaddle. These books were easy to read, requiring little to no mental effort on my part. They were decent stories, yes, but they do not even begin to reach the depth or quality of a classic. I am not against twaddle in an absolute sense, but when we are talking about what we actually want to own and promote to our children or people who borrow books from us, they just don't make the cut.

In addition to this, I find that my children already have different tastes than I did. Because I read Charlotte Mason's works so early in my mothering, I desired to introduce quality living books to our children from their earliest days. One of the results of this is that they have a taste for such books. When I think about what they are going to grow up to read, I don't foresee them being as attracted to twaddle as I was; they are showing signs that they will have more sophisticated tastes than I did.

And lastly, twaddle tends to not be worth reading over and over. Books were born to be read, or at least good books are. A lot of modern books were published in order to sell books and pay for those printing presses, which tend to cost money whether they are running or not. This is why we are seeing such a decline in the quality of books coming out of Christian publishers. {Well, that and the decline of literary ability within the culture in general.} So when I was pondering some of my "twaddle" I couldn't help but realize that I never planned to read these books again. And I doubted that my children would read them. And they certainly wouldn't be my first suggestion if someone came to my house looking for a book.

Is a book like that worth keeping? In my mind, no. Not even though I have the space right now. Because, frankly, there are more books to be bought, every single year for lessons, not to mention our own personal additions. So why waste space on such a book? Surely they can be found at most church libraries and public libraries.

Et tu?

So...how do you organize your library? Do you do anything you think is rare or unique? I love hearing about this; whoever first mentioned combining poetry with drama was a great blessing to me!