30 November 2010

The Darndest Things: Menace

For the ten Christmases I have been a wife, I have had a simple, table-top Christmas tree. In the beginning, it was all we could afford (this may still be true; I haven't checked prices lately). But once we had a toddler, we realized how handy it was to have the tree up and out of the reach of curious hands.

This worked well for E, who always respected the tree.

This worked well for A., who I trained not to touch the tree in a single day.

This worked extra well for Q., who holds the record for being our tiniest child. She couldn't reach the tree until this year, at age three, when she knows better.

However, we have this other child.

Ahem.

After lunch today, O. nonchalantly grabbed the extension cord (to which was attached our beloved tree) and walked off with it.

The table top tree? Well, it didn't fall completely to the floor, but that is because it got stuck between the table and the wall, where the base made a bit of a gash in the wall.

Anybody remember that song from Sesame Street? One of these things is not like the others...

Childrearing #14*

Teach children to "cross their arms" while in a store. My mother did this with us, and I cannot tell you how many times this has come in handy over the years...especially lately. For a couple years there, I was basically a hermit. Four children and all, you know. I am not superwoman, which is why I had to stay home most of the time until Number Four turned two.

Now we leave the house, and most of the time it works out okay.

One of the reasons I can keep my sanity while shopping with four children is due to my mother's rule: Cross your arms!

Growing up, our family friends owned the town pharmacy. It was also the only real "store" in town by the time I was in junior high.

You could even by Precious Moments figurines there!

Well, this place was packed to overflowing with all sorts of goods. When you are the community's only store, you make sure you have a little bit of everything, right?

My mother's daughters could drive her batty in this store. We wanted to touch...everything.

So she told us to cross our arms.

I still remember standing outside of Stringham's** and listening to her remind me that I absolutely must cross my arms.

The whole time.

Without exception.

Sounds crazy, I know, but recently we were out and Daughter Q. was touching things--removing things from racks, even! I remembered my mother's rule and instructed her to keep her arms crossed. It worked wonders.

Later, we passed by another family with a few children, and the mother was constantly nagging. "Don't touch that. Put that back. Stop touching that. Put that down. You're going to break that!"

It was an almost-constant refrain.

It dawned on me that I have no memories of my mother doing that to me.

I'm pretty sure that is because there is more power in telling the child to do one thing, than trying to forbid a thousand things.

Of course, Daughter Q. is a bit of a human contortionist. She can almost touch things while still technically keeping her arms crossed.

But not quite.


*A long time ago, I began typing up little tips and hints that I picked up from people I knew, and from books I read. I haven't added to this list in four years! But I like to keep it. I figure I'll print it out and give with baby shower gifts once I'm old enough to know if any of this was really wisdom.

**Stringham's which, sadly, was bought out by Rite Aid and no longer exists.

29 November 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Good morning! Was your Thanksgiving holiday a wonderful one? Ours was delightful. It seems that, after nine-and-a-half years of marriage, we finally have a rythm of traditions, and I find rest in that. Thanksgiving found us among extended family, the children playing with their second-cousins. I thank the Lord that though my children do not have first-cousins (nearby) to play with, they have a multitude of second-cousins to make up for it.

I want my children to understand what it means to be a cousin, if that makes sense.

Our other traditions involve setting up our own tree and decorating our home for the season, and also setting up Granddad's and Granmama's tree...and eating their food...and so on.

In other news...

  • Daughter A. is obsessed with Mary the mother of Jesus. My parents have an audio drama at their home that A. has been listening to for months...she listens every single time she visits their home. She loves the story. Well, when the Christmas boxes were retrieved from our garage, we found a stuffed nativity set inside. I had forgotten receiving it last year. I put in on the shelf in the library that holds our Christmas book collection. Daughter A. was thrilled. Now she has props! She has been playing Mary (and Joseph, shepherds, etc.) ever since.
  • Friend L. served a lovely soup at our small group meeting a few weeks ago: Zuppa Toscana. I made it at home this weekend. Still good. This has officially made its way into the winter section of the family cookbook.
  • Another soup that made the cut was sort of my own creation, and sort of not. Basically, I took two or three fish chowder recipes and made them fit my budget and what I typically have on hand. I'll share it with you, because it sure was good!


    Fish Chowder

    Ingredients
    1.5 pounds fish, cubed (I used about half salmon and half halibut because that is what we had--I really think just about anything but tuna filet would work and taste okay)
    1/4 cup butter
    1 onion, chopped
    3-4 potatoes, chopped
    2 large carrots, chopped
    3 stalks celery, chopped
    1 qt. vegetable broth
    28-oz. tomatoes (I used my granddad's homemade frozen purée, and the measurements weren't exact)
    1 tsp. thyme
    1/2 tsp. oregano
    1 bay leaf
    salt and pepper to taste
    1/2 cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
    1/2 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
    if I had had shrimp or some other shellfish I would have thrown in 1/2 a pound

    Directions
    1. Sauté onion, carrots, and celery in butter until onion is translucent.
    2. Add potatoes, broth, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
    3. Cover and let simmer for 25 minutes or until potatoes are beginning to get soft (sort of depends on how big your cubes are!)
    4. Add fish and simmer another 10-15 minutes (again, depends on how big the cubes--the goal is to cook the fish in the soup while finishing up the potatoes)
    5. If you are going to add the cheese, melt it in at this point.
    6. Salt and pepper to taste.
    7. Turn off heat, let the simmering stop for a minute or two, and stir in the cream. This is especially important if the cream is raw (mine wasn't).
    8. Double check salt and pepper.
    9. Serve.
  • Today is the first day of our DecemberTerm. I think I've decided to have the children make all of the ornaments for our Jesse Tree this morning. (We will see if it takes too long or not.) We are using an Advent wall hanging that someone gave us a few years ago. It has pockets for each day, and cute little ornaments (one per day) to bring out and hang on the tree. I think it'd be fun to make all the ornaments, stuff them in the pockets, and have them ready to go for the duration. My only problem is that it is one of those calendars that think Advent starts on December 1. This isn't a compelling enough reason for me to find a solution, though.
Did you write a post or two about your own Advent planning, preparation, or execution? Link up in the widget below! I thought it'd be fun to read everything you all have written about Advent...

27 November 2010

**Updated: DecemberTerm 2010**

I already posted this once, but there were some gaps. Here is my (hopefully) final copy. I've enjoyed reading the Advent plans a number of you have posted on your own blogs!



DecemberTerm 2010

23 November 2010

DecemberTerm 2010

I'm going to go ahead and post these, even though there are still a lot of Scripture passages I need to fill in once my Jesse Tree book arrives. (Please arrive, book!) I also have other prep to do, like finding my Rembrandt posters and printing off ornaments for our makeshift Jesse Tree.

This year, my goal was to simplify and focus. Last year I tried to do a lot of different things--a different poem each week, for instance. This year, we'll take a few stanzas from one poem and try to memorize them.

We're also taking the plunge and attempting to memorize Luke 2. I know we won't be able to do it all, but word on the street is that you have to start somewhere.

Something entirely new this year is...Advent organ concerts on Wednesdays. We took a tour of a local Presbyterian church this summer (stained glass--very awesome) and during the tour the woman told me I should bring the children to the weekly Advent concerts. So I'm going to! Just me and four kids. I am hoping we survive. This is why my Wednesday plans are so short.

In addition, I'm not going to be doing much baking during Advent. We're saving it all for the week of Christmas, so that we can deliver some platters to our neighbors. I've never done this before because, to be honest, with always being pregnant or having a newborn, I was just too tired to think of baking all day for two or three days in a row. This year, though, with O. being much more independent, I find I have the stamina for some of these things.

I always hoped "stamina" would arrive when I was consistently getting more sleep!

Now, on with the posting of the rough draft. Hopefully, I'll have a final copy before we actually begin!

DecemberTerm* 2010

*DecemberTerm is what our family calls the three weeks of school that take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas (we take the week of Christmas off).

22 November 2010

Just in Time

The Very First Thanksgiving Day
...arrived today!

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Okay. I admit it. It got a bit chilly here, so we did the perfectly natural thing. We skipped town and went to the beach. Perhaps the weather is better there? Not much. Not really. But we had a great time, and we got to visit our favorite place, Avila Beach.

We haven't left town since last August after Siah was released from the hospital. Interestingly enough, Q. had forgotten what an ocean was (even though we have plenty of by-the-sea picture books). She kept asking me why there was all that water right there, and I tried my best to answer her, but it was hard for her to accept that, at the end of the day, that is just how it is at the beach.

In the news this week, then...
  • I'll start with the confession. I really thought my DecemberTerm plans would be finished last week, but they weren't. They still aren't done. Part of that is because I'm waiting for my Jesse Tree book to arrive. I'll probably post my rough draft once everything else is in order. By the way, Google Books has a decent preview version of The Jesse Tree, for those of you who are considering it from a distance. I looked at it while picking Scriptures to go along with each day's reading, and it reminded me a little of one of our favorite Christmas picture books, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.
  • The monarch butterflies are overwintering in Pismo Beach, as usual. This is truly amazing. The trees are covered, and just when you think their leaves have turned shades of orange in keeping with the season, all those "leaves" flap their wings and fly into the air. Here is a photo, a little blurry, but know that all the orange places (and some of the darker places, too) are monarchs:
    It felt magical with all the butterflies flying through the air. The children were in awe.
  • I am so glad we took the chance to eat at Pismo Fish and Chips! Apparently, they are closed from Thanksgiving to Christmas...we just barely made it. The trip wouldn't have been the same without eating some of the best fish and chips on the Central Coast.
  • We finished up our first day leisurely in Avila Beach. We visited the Avila Valley Farm and fed the animals, of course. Poor O. was bit by a turkey more than once. They thought his little finger was food! I find that boys are slower on learning that what hurt them once will likely hurt them again. He tried again, just to see what would happen. I also did some Christmas shopping downtown, which was new and fun.
  • Mission San Luis Obispo is a great mission! This was our first time visiting this particular mission, and the first mission for most of the children ever. It was raining and we needed an indoor activity; this was a perfect fit. For those of you from out of state, perhaps you do not know about Father Junipero Serra? He almost single-handedly settled California for the Spanish. Actually, the Spanish king thought it was for Spain, but the evidence points to Serra's interest being in spreading the Gospel to the California Indians. It was interesting to me at the Mission, how one of the presentations kept saying that Serra was spreading "Spanish culture." I firmly believe that Serra believed he was spreading Christianity. I'm not saying there wasn't any syncretism at all, but Serra didn't encourage the Indians to wear clothes, for instance, because it was something the Spanish did (the Mission presentation says to the contrary). He encouraged them to wear clothes because God clothed Adam and Eve. Christians wear clothes. Perhaps the style of clothing was Spanish, but upon conversion, the Indians were obligated to wear something.
  • We saw a very frightening sign at a store we visited. 
    Trust me. I watched my children very closely.
  • Aren't California ground squirrels adorable?
    I love the way they hold their food in their hands, like a little person! My children watched this gal for quite some time before resuming our walk along Moonstone Beach Drive. I love my state.
The end. How was your weekend?

18 November 2010

Tooth-Friendly Hot Cocoa

This week, I started making hot cocoa. It's actually a little warmer than it ought to be for hot cocoa, but it was hard to resist all those little faces, begging me for a treat. I've been working on a number of my recipes, trying to reduce the sugar content and work in whole food forms of the refined ingredients. This isn't just about cavities, it's also about tummies, for my children can be incredibly sensitive to too much sugar and white flour, and I don't want us to head into the holidays in a weakened state.
 
Back to Basics CM300BR Cocoa-Latte Chrome 32-Ounce Hot-Drink Maker
Not the same as ours,
but this one looks nice, too!

A couple years ago, someone gave us a hot chocolate maker by Mr. Coffee. I wasn't sure it'd be that great but it ended up amazing us. I like to make our hot chocolate from scratch--no soy in my drinks, please! But cooking it on the stove usually makes a giant mess, and if I ignore it, I burn it or don't mix it up very well.

This little machine changed all of that.

All you do it put in all of your ingredients and turn it on. Mine even has a little timer on it, so it even turns itself off when it is done. It mixes up perfectly, every single time.

But back to the sugar issue.

I've been experimenting with my sugar-free sweeteners (stevia leaf powder and xylitol). I have mixed emotions about using them, because they are both highly refined (anyone ever wonder exactly how a pretty green stevia leaf becomes a powdery white substance?), and I am one to err on the side of whole foods.

However, comma.

A single teaspoon of sucanat contains 4 grams of sugar. That means there's 16 grams of sugar in a single 8-ounce cup of hot cocoa. I'm just not willing to do that to my children, for a variety of reasons.

I, personally, think that stevia has an aftertaste. I have heard that this is not true of stevia extract, something I haven't bought yet. For now, I'm using the white powder that someone gave me. Our xylitol is something I keep on hand to ease sore throats; using it in food like this is a first for me, but it's working well.

In order to make enough hot chocolate for four kids and myself, I make the full 32-ounces that the machine will hold. I use the recipe on the side of the cocoa powder, but adjust the sugar content to match the appropriate measurements for the sweeteners. Here is my recipe:
If you are unfamiliar with xylitol, I highly suggest you test it on your family in small amounts before serving it. Some folks find they cannot digest it, at least not without discomfort! Xylitol is, according to my reading (which may or may not be completely accurate--I admit!) anti-microbial in nature. So while sugar--especially fructose--feeds viruses, fungi, bacteria, and even cancer cells, xylitol tends to do the opposite. So far, so good.
Ingredients
4 cups raw pastured whole milk (but regular storebought milk would work fine, if you can digest it)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tb. xylitol
3 scoops stevia*

*Stevia powder tends to come with its own scoop. The scoop is tiny, but equal in "power" to a teaspoon of sugar, so this is equivalent to a single tablespoon of sugar.

My real interest in xylitol lies in its boost to dental health.  The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry supports the use of xylitol-containing products (such as xylitol-sweetened gum) to children rather than sugar.

In general, I like my children to consume more savory foods because I think that a sweet tooth is best tamed through general moderation of sweet consumption. At least with my own children, it seems that the more sweets I offer them, the more they desire. However, we all know that the holidays, being a time of celebration, are known for sugar-consumption.

This hot cocoa is, hopefully, starting us off on the right foot, while still allowing us to enjoy sharing a traditional celebratory drink together.

Enjoy!

______________________________
Other Reading:

17 November 2010

DecemberTerm Planning

It's that time of year again! I live in Central California, which means the weather outside isn't frightful at all yet (my children are still wearing short sleeves most days), but the leaves turned pretty shades of red and orange, and rumor has it Thanksgiving is next week. That means...DecemberTerm planning is here!

I am planning to share my finalized plans sometime this week, but I thought today I'd post what I'm looking at for resources. Of course, my two greatest resources are the women I met with last night for brainstorming...
  • For morning devotions, I bought The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean. Last year, I wrote my own, but this year I am trying to simplify, simplify. In our meeting last night, we all agreed that The Jesse Tree tradition is more suited to school (especially if coloring/making ornaments), while "regular" Advent devotions with candle lighting is more suited to evenings and husbands. So, we're doing both.
  • Speaking of making ornaments, I would like to someday make really nice Jesse Tree ornaments with the children. But this year, I'm just trying to perfect a few things before we take that step. For this year, I think I'm just going to print off the ornament symbol pattern available from the RCA on cardstock, cut them out, punch a hole in them, and tie a red ribbon through the top for hanging. This example of self-drying clay ornaments might be a fun project with the children next year.
  • For evening Advent devotions, my husband usually has me choose something, and then he leads with whatever I picked out. This year, I'm trying to decide between the two amazing options, available free online, courtesy of Christ the King Presbyterian Church.
  • Last night, we nailed down one manner per week to teach during morning Circle Time, but I still need to assign verses to each day, and then the manners will appear, like last year, in my posted plans.
  • For memory work this year, we're taking the plunge and attempting Luke 2. We all agreed that we always think that Luke 2 is a good idea, but then we also think our children are too young. Well, the oldest children are now not too young, and the younger children always surprise me, so we'll see how far we get and it'll be great. My only hurdle now is deciding on a version. I use the NASB for my own Bible reading. But I adore the King James, especially for memory work. Our church, however, uses the ESV, and that is what will be used when they read the Christmas story during the service. Decisions, decisions...
  • A local church is offering weekly Advent lunchtime organ concerts, so we are going to try and eat a very early lunch and attend those weekly during Advent. If we like it, we might make it a tradition of sorts.
What plans do you have up your sleeve? Does Advent have a major impact on your children's education?

16 November 2010

The Atlas Inside

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

This morning I had to correct a child who has, quite honestly, had it coming. This child is always trying to be the parent, bossing the other children around, inventing rules that don't actually exist, and so on. I've attempted some verbal correction, but now we're in habit training mode. I spent some time explaining that the Lord has ordained the order of authority in our house, and this child is not to usurp that order, even if perfectly capable of handling the situation.
 
As I walked away, I realized this child is a lot like Atlas, the giant punished by Zeus who, due to his siding with the Titans in the primordial war, must bear up the weight of the arc of heaven, that we all might not be crushed by the sky.

As a Christian, the story is always interesting, because we realize that he is holding something that isn't his to hold.
 
And it's a struggle.
 
What a struggle.
 
Burdened by a God-sized responsibility, he is a slave. He cannot freely wander where he will. He cannot be with his wife and children.
 
There are two traditional endings to the story of Atlas.
 
In some versions, Heracles smashes the Atlas mountains and builds the two Pillars of Hercules, effectively liberating Atlas from his bondage.
 
In other versions, we see an Atlas who can no longer bear up. He begs Perseus, who is on his way to kill the Gorgon Medusa, to return with Medusa's head, and turn him to stone, that he might not feel the weight of the world upon his shoulders any longer.
 
My child, and all of us who feel a responsibility which stretches beyond our own boundary markers, must choose one of those two roads. On the one hand, we find freedom from a responsibility which was not ours--from trying to carry the whole world--which also liberates us to do our duty--to carry the small piece of the world which is our appropriate load to bear.
 
On the other hand, we can keep standing in God's place, and have our spirits killed over time. The sky is not ours to carry, the world is not ours to orchestrate and keep "safe," and the only way to handle such a burden is to stop feeling--to stop caring.

To turn to stone.
 
As a Christian, the most interesting thing is that we can trust that, in releasing the sky, we learn that it does not come crashing down after all.
 
It floats.
 
Who alone stretches out the heavens?

15 November 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

This weekend passed peacefully enough. When I woke O. up this morning, he was in an exceptionally good mood. While I opened the curtains in the room, he celebrated by jumping wildly in his crib. For a very long time. I am hoping the crib survives until I move him into the bottom bunk after we commence with potty training in the spring. I don't know how much of this abuse it can withstand!

In other news...

  • Friend R. told me about some free Sara Groves music that is available. Any Sara Groves fans out there? I hadn't heard of her until Friend G. gave me a CD when one of the girls was born. We listen to it often--Station Wagon: Songs for Parents is the name. I always tear up during the song that mentions teaching her child math.
  • Our credit card information was stolen recently. That was fun. Siah has a card he uses in order to get a discount on gas purchases. Thankfully, he is so consistent, always paying about the same, always going to the same station on the way home from work. The real mystery is why none of the normal red flags were raised on our card. Someone took the information ("skimming" is the word they used in the fraud investigation), put it on another card, and went on a shopping spree in the Oregon and Washington. Our normal just-over-a-hundred-dollars bill was...$3500! Yikes! The other interesting detail is that makes the bill $500 over the limit. To provide some contrast, our other card was once frozen because I opened a Skype account with it. Apparently there is so much fraud associated with Skype that the cards from this particular company are automatically frozen when used on the Skype site. Part of me wonders whether this was an inside job--it almost looks like someone turns off all the normal safety mechanisms. But maybe I just think in conspiracies.
  • My mom and I took the kiddos to the Veterans Day parade on Thursday. I had no idea that Kevin McCarthy was going to be there, riding in the back of a car, waving at everybody. Mom told me I ought to have remembered from last year, but--hello--that was a whole year ago. Anyhow, had I remembered, I would have brought a sign that says

    Hey Kevin!
    Remind us why you voted for CPSIA??
    Read the bills!
    I think I'm going to have one printed up. I'll just keep it in the bed of my truck in case I turn up somewhere and Mr. McCarthy is there. Since he doesn't answer my emails, perhaps this new tactic will work.
  • Last week's free Audio Weekly over at CiRCE was Vigen Guroian's Mentor lecture. I have to admit that all of these giveaways are starting to make me nervous. On the one hand, it is very generous and I am sure many people are enjoying and appreciating them. On the other hand, I hope that Mr. Kern can still afford to eat! I keep thinking he ought to give away audio from a conference perhaps three or four years ago, ones that probably don't sell as often...
  • Over on TRWBB site I wrote a post called Good Books for Christmas. It's a list of our favorite Christmas read-alouds. I put it together because I was organizing for DecemberTerm, and naturally I needed to procrastinate by blogging.
  • Here is a class I am not taking: Happy and Healthy Holidays. I love the Nourished Kitchen recipes, especially the fact that they are written in such a way as to create a sort of longing for Eden. I would love to learn how to make Christmas goodies that won't compromise our immunity. We are always sick in January after the Christmas sugar has taken is toll. For this year, I'll just be searching for low-sugar, nutrient-dense treat recipes and calling it a day.
  • Here is a class I am taking: Sourdough e-Course. I have wanted to master sourdough bread for a very long time. I have tried on my own and my loaves taste like alcohol and have a weight approximate to that of a small compact car. I am hoping that this will reform me. With all of the allergies my children had in the past, I am still very careful about bread products--so careful that bread or pizza crust or anything with grains is a rare treat. Everything I have read about allergies says that sourdough is the gentlest way to consume grains. My problem is that it is the hardest form of bread-making to pull off, and it is both art and science, something hard to capture in a single recipe. My hope is that the videos and class interaction will make up my deficit.
And you? What was your weekend like? What are you plans for the upcoming week?

12 November 2010

CiRCE Talks: Kern's Cultivating of the Soul of Liberty

In this final installment of this year's CiRCE Talks (well, not that I won't eventually discuss some of the other excellent speeches, including Dr. Paula Flint's And Liberty for All: Including Students with Learning Disabilities, the talk that made me fall in love with Charlotte Mason all over again), Andrew Kern gives us a list of final thoughts. His thoughts are Permanent Things ala Russell Kirk.

So here I'm going to give you my list.

Ten Great Thoughts Mr. Kern
Helped Me Think

1. We ought to read Russell Kirk. Kirk gets top billing at this conference, with many of the speakers quoting or mentioning him. Kern specifically names America's British Culture and Roots of American Order. He suggests that the latter would be the ideal high school text for American history study. I've made a mental note of that for when the time comes, and in the meantime it is on my PBS wishlist because I'd like to read it. Perhaps I'll start a Kirk shelf in the family library. He can sit next to Wendell Berry. I think they'll get along fine.

2. "When we treat a child...as anything less than the bearer of the divine image, we are oppressing them...When we are not actively cultivating their souls, then our interaction with them is oppressive and must be repented of." Gulp. C'mon. Surely I'm not the only one who has been guilty of this a time or two. I just never thought of it in this way before. I think I simply thought I was being selfish, which was true, but I didn't think about the ramifications. I noticed also that the first sentence here seems to be active--we treat the child as less than human in some way. But the second sentence is much more frightening because it can be interpreted passively. When we are not doing something, we are guilty. I don't know if he meant it that way, but as a homeschooler I think that there can be an element of harm in passivity, in taking a hands-off approach. I firmly believe in Charlotte Mason's concept of masterly inactivity (when we, the parents, watch and wait in wisdom while they learn something for themselves), but there is a place where we cross the line into educational neglect.

3. Mentors must be fit to mentor, and we are mentors. Therefore, we must be fit. This is a thought that struck me throughout. Teachers used to be called masters because they were actually masters of something. Authors had the same name--the word author is derived from the word authority. We have authority based on our position in the lives of our students. This is a divinely given authority. But with it comes the responsibility to actually know. Of course, having been given as much of a Darwinian education as the next person, I can admit that there is so much that I don't know, so many ideas I never had in my youth. Staying a step ahead of my students, then, is imperative. Being willing to learn with them is, too. Praying for God to have a lot of mercy in granting wisdom is a third approach, and highly recommended.

4. The disordered soul is expressing itself in a disordered society. Chaos is as chaos does, I suppose. I don't have a lot to say about this, but I added it to the list because I want to think about this one some more.

5. The human soul consists of reason and the will. Mr. Kern elaborated on this, and I was hanging on every word. The rational faculty, he says, is the capacity to see into the life of things and enables us to bring all things into a harmony. This is reminiscent of John Hodges' lecture The Principle of Cultivation. Kern says we train the reason, that it might become wisdom. Likewise, we discipline and train the will, that it might become virtue.

6. Don't be afraid to govern your children. Let me tell you a story. The other day on Craig's List (almost my favorite place in cyberspace, but I digress), a woman posted a toddler bed for sale. It was brand new, she said. She was selling it because the child didn't like it, nor did she want to sleep in it, she said. I cringed, like I cringe when I see women who are obviously terrified of their child and walking on eggshells, as we say, in order to avoid certain responses from him. And yet I also totally relate, because I remember times in my life when I have felt exactly this way. I have walked those same proverbial eggshells, I have feared a negative reaction from my child, and one of the reasons I have found Charlotte Mason (and the parenting classes we took that I keep mentioning even now, six months later) is because they have helped me feel liberated--free to govern my children. I feel more confident in the authority that God gave me over them. My fear is diminishing.

7. We are all born with slave minds, and slave minds want repetition, security, and predictability; we are looking for somebody powerful to regulate the Nile for us. That last part was a reference to Mr. Kern's opening lecture, A Contemplation of Liberty. I found myself thinking about how I ate a turkey sandwich on sourdough with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion, and American cheese (which, it turns out, isn't hardly a food) every single day for three straight years during my undergraduate work. Does this mean I was a slave? Am I still? How does this defitinion of a slave mind interact with Charlotte Mason's assertion that about 90% of our actions are habit-based, and so we work (repetitively) to build good habits. In fact, Mason goes so far as to say that good habits are liberating because they free us from the necessity of constant dilemma. We run on the rails we have laid down for virute. My question is: are Kern and Mason in conflict with each other?

8. It is imperative to teach English history. Mr. Kern tells us that what happened in England from 1215-1688 has never been seen upon the earth, and ought to be studied. We are who we are as Americans because of what happened in England during that time. We no longer study this, so we no longer understand the concrete, practical freedom involved in the rights of Englishmen.

9. We have to start with our own selves. Kern tells us, "We can't impose freedom from on high." (This, incidentally, is why I've always doubted our country's "spread democracy" foreign policy agenda--I just don't believe freedom can be attained using this method.) Kern encourages us to start with our own souls, bringing them into order. We must order our own affections. Just reading that makes me squirm because I know mine aren't completely in order and I know how hard it would be to even attempt such a task. There is a reason why Charlotte Mason wrote that to break bad habits and form new good ones as an adult was akin to doing violence to oneself. Like anything else, the concept of babysteps helps me be brave. Even Marco Polo's amazing journey involved one step at a time.

10. Jesus is the answer. Isn't that amazing? We never can get away from this truth--not that we'd want to. Kern tells us that our society propagates the illusion that you can have harmony, oneness, and freedom in a completely secularized world, but it's not true. Kern says that Christ
can order all things--our soul, our communitites--but the instant we try to take His place and govern more than He has authorized us to govern, we have become tyrants and we are interfering with the work of Christ.
Only Christ can order all things to fruitfulness and freedom. Jesus is the only hope for the human race; He is the truth Who sets us free. When He brings things into harmony (which He will someday!), they flourish.

Your turn!

11 November 2010

Examinations: Reflections, and Two Sample Answers

I've received some emails concerning the exam I posted, and I think it might be helpful to do as Charlotte did, and post some sample answers. But before I do, I thought I'd mention that my beloved student completely bombed The Merchant of Venice question. Seriously. He barely remembered that we read it. I found myself wondering why. Why was his answer to Perseus so long and detailed that I had to encourage him to wrap it up, and yet he couldn't remember The Merchant of Venice at all?

I actually think it is because I crammed the reading of The Merchant of Venice (a children's version--not the real play) into a single morning. I distinctly remember telling him that his narration didn't have to be as thorough as usual because there was so much detail in the reading.

Bad move, if I really wanted him to remember.

In contrast, we moved slowly through Perseus, narrating a number of different readings spread out over the entire term.

Of course, I'm sure the fact that our Perseus book is much better written than our child's Shakespeare also had an impact.

Since I do want him to remember his Shakespeare plots, as I think they will help us when it comes time to read the real thing, I'm going to need to break the plot up into a handful of smaller readings, spread it out, and require a thorough narration each time.

I really don't mind my student having a cursory overview of some things, but Shakespeare is important.

Another thing I realized last night is that if he remembered everything as well as he did the story of Perseus, we were in for a very, very long night. So I found myself trimming the questions so that they were more specific. Open ended questions such as "tell me everything you know about Perseus" are great for a student who is having trouble with the exams and needs the freedom, but a child with a detailed memory is going to need to have the questions be narrower.

For the sake of the audience.

Ahem.

Below, I'll include two questions with his attendant answers as examples (I will add proper spelling in parenthesis only as needed...sometimes I think spelling mistakes at this age are just as endearing as mispronunciations were at age four). Charlotte provides lots of examples in her Volume 3, by the way. Her students quoted poetry without being asked.

I'm just saying.

What was John the Baptist like?
John the Baptist was as some people think weird.

Why was John the Baptist weird?

He was living in the desert dressed in skins, and ate locest dipped in honey.

He came to earth, to preper the way for the Messiah.

John the Baptised peaple, and told them that he was prepering the way for the Messiah.

One day while he was baptising people he saw Jesus walking towrd him.

He said "here comes the Lame {Lamb} of God, who comes to take away the sins of the world."

Jesus said "baptise me John."

John the Baptis said "lord I cannot for I am a sinner."

But Jesus siad "baptist me."

John took Jesus into the water and baptised him.

When John had done so the Radience of heven shone upon Jesus and a voice from heven siad "this is my son and I am very pleased with him."

Athat moment a dove sent by God landed on Jesus's shoulder.
I'd like to thank Winnie the Pooh and A.A. Milne for inspiring that capital R.

Tell about Queen Mary I of England and her sister Elizabeth.
When Mary became queen of England she marred {married} Philup of Spain.

Soon pilup saw that Mary had rule over Englend alone.

He also saw that he had no rule over Englend.

He left and went back to Spain. Queen Mary said that she loved Pilup.

Now Mary was a Cathect {Catholic} and wanted to make every body in the land Cathect.

She burned people and cut of {off} there {their} heads until sh {she} was called Bloody Mary.

Many plots were formed against her.

Soon she thought that her sister Elizabeth was forming them.

She sent a roaul {royal} messanger to her sister.

Her sister came but was put in prison.

After a while she lived in a house until Mary died and she became queen.
Yes, he indents the first line of his paragraphs. He learned to do that about three weeks ago, but there is no way to duplicate it easily with html. Notice that each sentence is a paragraph, as a general rule. I don't correct these. I learn from them, as I said before.

I rather liked them.

10 November 2010

Examinations: What's the Point?

This is only our second time doing exams, but I am already seeing such good from it, that I want to commit to do it after every single term {barring extreme circumstances, of course}. I have been pondering what the various benefits of an examination might be, and this is what I have come up with {or remembered from my reading in Charlotte's books} so far.

An exam...
  • Encourages the student to pay attention. I already see a difference between this term and the previous term. The previous term was concluded with our first--ever--exam. Because we had never done one before, my son didn't really know what to expect, and that is just fine. But this term I noticed that he mentioned exams a couple times. He obviously saw the exam as yet another reason to pay attention and remember what he learned. Because we do not study for exams, he knows that he will not get a second-chance at the information {well, he will, but it won't be the same chance because we don't repeat the exact same thing over and over, if that makes sense}.
  • Tells me if we are using the right curriculum. A living book contains contagious ideas. Generally, the ideas are captivating and easy to remember. I don't want to say that all learning is easy, but in general, living books are interesting enough that they are a pleasure to narrate and to remember. If we ever had a book that resulted in consistently terrible narrations and exams, and he was still doing great in all other areas, I would conclude that the book was a bad fit and I needed to replace it with something better.
  • Tells me if I am doing a good job. This particular child learns in earnest. He really wants to know, and he tries very hard. {There was a day when this was not so, and praise God, he has been refined.} Because of this, if he did horribly on an exam, I would have to decide whether the problem was the book...or me. Did I rush through narrations because it was almost lunch time and we were behind? Did he ask questions that I answered poorly? All of that will show during exams. The exams will, in a sense, convict me of my crimes.
  • Offers a final chance to celebrate all we have learned. We try to make the oral examination night feel festive. Grandparents come over, we play fun music, eat a meal together, and so on. He receives compliments on a job well done. The day after, we make a celebratory dessert during school hours. I have been generally bad about marking time and recognizing moments worth celebrating. The end of the term is a natural place to stop and be grateful.
  • Lets me know if I will want to cover something again in the near future. We have only completed two of the three written exams, and it is already completely obvious that his cursive characters still need work. I'm not surprised, but it is nice to have it confirmed. If I discover other gaps, I will then have to decide if it is really worth going back or not.
  • Generally lets me know where we need improvement. Last year's written exams revealed to me more than ever that my student needed grammar coaching and spelling lessons. The oral exams told me he needed to be trained to make eye contact when speaking to a group of people and to move with confidence even when nervous. Little things like this are revealed, even though grammar, spelling, and rhetorical skills aren't the point of the test.
  • Reveals all sorts of things, really. Last year, I tried a written narration, even though I thought he was a bit young and I pretty much never required writing from him. I did it out of curiosity. On the first day, he could barely eke out three sentences, and I don't think they had any periods or capital letters. But the last day, he was writing half a page {with very bad grammar}. What I learned was the marvelous power that lies in daily writing. It is amazing to me what an exam can teach me about teaching my children.
  • Gets the child comfortable with a more stressful situation. He gets a little nervous, I've noticed. I think that's good for him. Although I don't do all of my teaching with an aim to "prepare him for college," tests are a fact of life. I want him to be able to take a test, or answer questions before a panel in an interview, with calm confidence. This is a step toward reaching that goal.

09 November 2010

A Charlotte Mason Examination (Year 3, Term 1)

This term, we are doing three days of exams. On Thursday and Friday, I plan to either give kitchen lessons (cooking and/or baking) or do a field trip. It sort of depends on the weather, and it sort of depends upon me getting together a plan. I have been so preoccupied with writing the examination and term report (which replaces grading--I don't do grading), that I haven't thought past Wednesday.

This time around, I'm going to post the three written examinations, and then end with the oral examination. The oral examination is given in the evening with the grandparents. Each adult (four including my husband and myself) has a set of questions in their hand, and we take turn asking them. I have no idea how we will do this when we have more than one child needing to be examined, but it works for us for now.

In addition to the exams, E. will still work on two pages of math per day and continue with his articles for his various binders and his Bible reading. I think we will skip the written narrations because it would be too much writing for one day. He can pick that back up next week.

Monday Written Examination

Bible
  1. What was John the Baptist like?
Composition
  1. Pick one of the virtues we studied. Write a story in which a person displays that virtue.
Writing
  1. Form the cursive letters a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, and k from memory.
Tuesday Written Examination

Composition
  1. Write a fable.
History
  1. Tell about Queen Mary I of England and her sister Elizabeth.
Writing
  1. Form the cursive letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, and K from memory.
Wednesday Written Examination

Composition
  1. Write a tall tale.
History
  1. Describe the life of John Adams up until the time he became the American Ambassador to France.
Oral Examination

Bible
  1. Tell about the baptism of Jesus.
  2. Tell us everything you know about Jacob’s son Joseph.
Children's Catechism Memory Work
  1. Who made you?
  2. What else did God make?
  3. Why did God make you and all things ?
  4. How can you glorify God?
  5. Why ought you to glorify God?
  6. Are there more gods than one?
  7. In how many persons does this one God exist?
  8. What are they?
  9. What is God?
  10. Where is God?
  11. Can you see God?
  12. Does God know all things?
  13. Can God do all things?
  14. Where do you learn how to love and obey God?
  15. Who wrote the Bible?
  16. Who were our first parents?
  17. Of what were our first parents made?
  18. What did God give Adam and Eve besides bodies?
  19. Have you a soul as well as a body?
  20. How do you know that you have a soul?
  21. In what condition did God make Adam and Eve?
  22. What is a covenant?
  23. What covenant did God make with Adam?
  24. What was Adam bound to do by the covenant of works?
  25. What did God promise in the covenant of works?
  26. What did God threaten in the covenant of works?
  27. Did Adam keep the covenant of works?
  28. What is Sin?
  29. What is meant by want of conformity?
  30. What is meant by transgression?
  31. What was the sin of our first parents?
  32. Who tempted them to this sin?
  33. What befell our first parents when they had sinned?
  34. Did Adam act for himself alone in the covenant of works?
  35. What effect had the sin of Adam on all mankind?
  36. What is that sinful nature which we inherit from Adam called?
  37. What does every sin deserve?
  38. Can anyone go to heaven with this sinful nature?
Poetry
  1. Recite Bed in Summer
  2. Recite of Children
  3. Recite Psalm 23
Virtue Scriptures
  1. Recite your faith verse.
  2. Recite your hope verse.
  3. Recite your love verse.
  4. Recite your justice verse.
  5. Recite your fortitude verse.
  6. Recite your temprance verse.
  7. Recite your prudence verse.
Art Study
  1. Describe your favorite painting or drawing by Albrecht Dürer.
Geography
  1. Using the globe, tell us everything you know about the travels of Marco Polo.
General Science
  1. Describe the most interesting invention you studied this term—tell us who invented it, how it works, and everything you know about it.
  2. Where do pearls come from? Describe how they are made.
Literature
  1. Tell us the story of the Merchant of Venice.
History
  1. Tell us everything you know about Perseus.
  2. Tell us everything you know about Leonardo Da Vinci.
  3. How many wives did King Henry VIII have? Tell us everything you remember about them.
  4. What happened to Sir Humphrey Gilbert? Tell us the story of his adventures.
Singing
  1. Sing Praise Ye the Lord
  2. Sing Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us

08 November 2010

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

This week is...Examination Week! Hip hip...hooray! We are having a lovely morning of it so far. Tomorrow I'll post our exam questions for the week. I didn't cover everything, but I don't think Charlotte always did, either, so when I decided it was too much, I cut the colonization of Florida entirely. My husband is originally from Florida. Do you think this will offend him?

In other news...
  • In the comments last week, there was a brief discussion on wooing teenagers into appreciating the arts. Having never parented a teen, I tend to look at these things from the student's perspective. I still remember that there was a time that I cared very little and was very ignorant, and what it was that dramatically changed my heart. Actually, I should say who it was, because reading Francis Schaeffer's The God Who is There as a teenager was a dramatic experience for me. Cindy wrote a wonderful article on this topic and I highly recommend it.
  • Andrew Kern has an interesting roundup of education news over on the CiRCE blog.
  • To celebrate the end of Term 1, E. and I will be making Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cinnamon Icing--a grain-free recipe! I am already excited...I just have to figure out where in town I can buy some coconut butter for the icing.
  • I am also making some of these Gluten-Free Grain-Free Granola Bars at the end of the week for us to snack on next week, only I'll be using melted coconut oil in the recipe because I don't keep grapeseed oil on hand and I don't usually like olive oil in baked goods if I can help it. Oh, and I don't do hemp protein. Traditionally, hemp was used for making rope, and I personally think we ought to keep it that way, regardless of amino acid content.
  • Is anyone else Christmas shopping? I am in the process of making my list and checking it twice. We have a lot of out-of-state family, and I find if I don't get busy in November, I end up being late on gift delivery. Santa is never late, and I am a shame upon Christmas giving. This year I am redoubling my efforts.
  • And finally...this weekend we were invited to a costume birthday party. E. went as an astronaut (I bought a clearanced Halloween costume at Target), and the girls were (of course) princesses, courtesy of their dress-up box. I was baffled as to what to do with O., but thankfully Friend R. stepped in. That lady is a wealth of ideas! Anyhow, he ended up going as...a toadstool. It was pretty cute.

05 November 2010

CiRCE Talks: Hodges' Freedom and the Fine Arts

I'm going to try and hit some of Hodges' main points according to category rather than the order in which they appeared. (We'll see how that works out.) In the meantime, it bears mentioning that among the books quoted, we find old favorites like C. S. Lewis' Abolition of Man, Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences (which Si and I just began reading together two nights ago), as well as Theodore Dalrymple's essay What We Have to Lose (a fascinating read, also linked in Assigned Reading).

What is Meant by "Fine Arts"
I went into this assuming the talk concerned painting, drawing, dance, theater, and music. It does, but he also included literature. Hodges references the greatest of literary works, such as Dante's Divine Comedy, various plays by Shakespeare, and Homer's Odyssey and Illiad.

Hodges repeats himself a number of time. He says:
The fine arts are the repository of the accumulated wisdom of past generations.
Fine arts train the soul to love the right thing and despise the things that are not so good.
The fine arts pass on civilization.
That last statement is, in context, pointing to the fine arts as a restraining force, keeping back barbarism. If you read Theodore Dalrymple's essay, you will see a bit of what he means.

These statements have a number of implications. For instance, this allows people from the past to reach into the present and teach us what they learned. Also, it allows those of us who receive this wisdom from the past to then pass it on to future generations. Likewise, this means that teachers are given the work of passing on wisdom.
Instead of trying to figure out how you can entertain your students, look to preserve the heritage.
We are not just giving our students something, but giving them something that they themselves are expected to pass on. The goal is keeping civilization alive.

This reminded me of R.C. Sproul, Jr.'s book When you Rise Up. The most important lesson I learned from that book is that we are not just to teach our children, but we are also to teach them to teach their own children in the future. When Sproul mentions through Deuteronomy 6, he rightly points out that the goal was not to have a single generation teach their children, but for each generation to do the appointed work of passing the heritage down to their children. This was profound to me; I had never thought about it like that before.

Hodges is saying something similar. We are not just filling up little vessels with beautiful, good, true thoughts. We are actually keeping the stream flowing from the past into the future. We do not want little dams, but rather children who will grow up to spill over into the generation which comes after them.

Civilization v. Barbarism
This entire talk pivoted on this contrast between civilization and barbarism. Hodges says that we take civilization for granted, that we fail to realize that it is not natural--in the sense that we create it and maintain it through deliberate effort. He tells us that every generation has to make the choice between the two, and that a people can become barbaric in a single generation (an example being WWII era Germany). Because we are no longer great students of history, we do not remember that there was a time when there were no universities. We do not remember that it was quite recent that there were no hospitals.

I adored Hodges' use of Homer's Cyclops character to depict barbarism. The Cyclops, having only one eye, has no depth perception. He drinks goat's milk, while Odysseus drinks wine--the idea here being that goat's milk is the ancient version of fast food (being instantly available via goat), but wine takes time, skill, and all sorts of patience. When he eats, the Cyclops reveals that he is indiscriminate. He doesn't distinguish between flesh and bone, but swallows all in one bite. He doesn't cook his food, while civilization involves cooking food, treating food correctly, using a knife and fork, etc. The Cyclops is stupid and doesn't understand language, so Odysseus can play all sorts of tricks on him. When Odysseus blinds the Cyclops, he uses a ship's mast, which is the symbol of the sophisticated Greek culture.

Two things that Hodges said about this ancient poem stuck out to me. The first is that it was not great because it told the Greeks what they wanted to hear. It was great because it made Greeks out of its hearers--it served as a civilizing cultural force. The second is that our culture is more like the Cyclops than it is the Greeks.

We are the barbarians, and our desire for instant, simplistic gratification betrays this truth.

Challenges to the Great Works of our Culture
The past couple generations have seen specific, targeted rejection of the Great Works. People complain that Western culture is oppressive and bigoted and needs to go. It's out of date, and we've moved on. Etcetera.

Hodges counters all of this with the assertion that the great thing about Western civilization has been that throughout the generations there have been people who have been able to get outside of their own day and speak to it in a critical way, and that critique is just and useful in every generation, up and down the chronology. I was thinking here of how the Bible is like that. Even though we all recognize that, for instance, Paul's epistles were written to certain churches at a specific time, we also recognize that they speak to us today. Paul's epistles transcend their time.

Though the Bible is superior in every way and towers above the Great Books, this doesn't make the Great Books any less great, for they, too, are transcendent. (Read Ivanhoe and you will see that it speaks to us right here and now. Sigh. I love Ivanhoe.)

The Great Books are useful for the generations that follow. They question the assumptions of their own day, which is what makes them instructive. And then Hodges says:
Nobody who really knows the characters Portia or Desdemona would assume that Shakespeare hated women. These are great women--noble and glorious. If you've read Richard III and Macbeth, you know Shakespeare didn't have any idealistic love for aristocrats...He isn't of his own time. He saw the human condition and he gave dignity and critique where needed. He was beyond his years in wisdom.
Hodges tells us that the great authors are not time-bound--their greatness is that they transcended their time. The ones that are time-bound are the ones left on the cutting room floor. Likewise, there are pieces of music written by great composers that are not great works, and they don't transcend their day.

What Are the Fine Arts For?
I already mentioned that Hodges says the fine arts are a repository of wisdom that are to be passed down through the generations. But this is a questions we must ask of our students as well. Hodges reminds us that we are often frustrated with students. They don't want Dante and Homer, they want Twilight and its trashy relatives. When we suggest a better way, teenagers often rear up in rebellion.

Why?

Well, because our culture, Hodges tells us, is Romantic. This doesn't mean we have warm, fuzzy feelings. It means we are descendents of the philosophical movement of the early 1800s called Romanticism. Romanticism assumed that the highest good, the best thing about man, is that we feel. This made for a very emotional culture.

Most of our students have yet to realize what it is that the arts are giving them. If Johnny believes that the purpose of the arts is momentary distraction from an otherwise difficult day, if the only thing he is supposed to get from them is momentary diversion, then why not poorly written, easily accessible works? The classics are hard. The only reason to read them is if the arts are more than entertainment. If the point of the arts is, in the words of Hodges, to give us a deep appreciation of the human condition, the truth of who we are and where we came from, and ask important questions, it becomes obvious that only the classics are actually art.

So in order to cultivate the tastes of our students, to get them to move in the right direction, yes, we require them to read more challenging works, but we also explain to them what art is for.

Hodges' friend is quoted as saying,
Reading Thomas Hardy won't save your soul...but after reading Thomas Hardy,...there'll be more of a soul there to save.
Bigger. More human. More of what you were mean to be.

Hierarchy
Remember that the theme of the entire conference was liberty. So somehow each speaker needs to tie into that theme, and Hodges was no exception. I loved this:
A surefire way to be a slave is to reject the hierarchy of authority.
He reminds us of the Garden. This is exactly what our first parents did. In throwing off God's authority, they became slaves to sin and death.

When a student or child looks at their teacher or parent and says, "Who are you to tell me to read this book? Listen to this music?" and so on and so forth, we need to realize that this is the same mindset the devil encouraged in Adam and Eve. It is the desire to be god, to be their own authority.

We all have a time in our lives when we think that hierarchy is bad. We don't like someone--anyone--being over us. We didn't like answering to God in the Garden. We don't like to have anything over us including husbands, parents, bosses, policemen, or...a literary canon.

But we need hierarchy and we were designed by God for hierarchy.

We take hierarchy, and we place it in the lives of our students, and they learn that it will lead them out of their adolescence and into adulthood. The literary canon becomes a rite of passage: Come, and let me show you what adults think about.

In Summation
The barbarian hates humility. He hates form (an example is the throwing off of the form of marriage--he wants pleasure without the necessary and appropriate form--he wants to tear away the veil). True humanity is respecting the veil.

We learn what it means to be human by respecting the forms. Here was a most important point:
The man of culture respects forms even before he knows why they are there because he knows that forms lead you to something profound. He submits to the form until he sees why, rather than the barbarian way, which is to say when I don't see why we do it that way, I want to get rid of it until you can prove to me that it was worthwhile.
How many times have we made light with forms? I know I have. It has been only recently that I have realized the value of some of them and attempted to once again become respectful of them..

The goal is to get the barbarism out of our students. The end of barbarism is death. The fine arts refine our sensibilities. They bring about civility. They teach us wisdom. They order our affections, helping us learn to love that which is worth loving, and hate that which is worthless.

Your Turn

03 November 2010

Reflections on Property Rights

I would like to suggest a different perspective on private property, our family is Christian and we believe that we have been purchased by Jesus for a great price so everything we have and are, including our children belongs to Him, since we own nothing we have no private property and we try to teach our kids to respect each other's boundaries- it applies to toys and space. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

-Commenter Julia
In response to this comment, I explained that such a discussion deserves a post of its own. I also told Julia that this exact thought was in my mind yesterday, for the children and I read a retelling of the story of Jean Valjean and the priest (from Les Miserables) in our Circle Time visit with The Book of Virtues. If you are unfamiliar with the tale, Jean Valjean is recently released from prison. No one will take him in or help him. A priest allows him to stay in his house and eat at his table as an equal. In the night, Jean Valjean decides to steal the silver with which they had eaten the evening meal. He does so, and is caught by soldiers who, upon discovering the silver on his person, assume that he has stolen it. Meantime, the priest has already realized that his silver is missing, and his response is singularly Christian:
I have been thinking for a long time that I ought not to keep the silver. I should have given it to the poor, and certainly this man was poor.
When the soldiers bring Jean Valjean to the priest's door, the priest says this:
Oh, you are back again! I am glad to see you. I gave you the candlesticks, too, which are silver also, and will bring forty francs. Why did you not take them?
The soldiers are stunned, Jean Valjean is stunned, and, after the soldier leave, the priest tells Jean Valjean that he must use the proceeds to start a new life, that with this silver, the priest has purchased his soul from evil and given it to God.

Does God Believe in Property Rights?
If we're going to discuss property rights, we need to begin at the beginning: does God Himself support the concept of ownership? As Christians, this is the proper starting place for our discussion. The answer is unequivocally yes. We could search through a lot of various texts, but let's just head straight for the Ten Commandments and look at two of them:
You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:15
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:17
Stealing and covetousness are not possible unless God has first recognized ownership, physical boundaries (such as land rights), and relational boundaries (such as marriage rights). If everything is common property among men from the outset, then it is not stealing to take what I want or need from the stack of collective stuff. Likewise, it is not coveting to dream of how I might use the community's donkey in the community field.

In other words, I cannot steal something which belongs to us.

Right?

In the context of the story of Jean Valjean, we all acknowledge that he was stealing. Such a story does not rebel against property ownership, but rather give us an example of grace and mercy, a particular man's relationship with his own property, and how one might rightly relate to one's property in light of the forgiveness, grace, and provision of God.

The Problem is Not Ownership
In my post yesterday, I explained that there was a time in my motherhood journey where I essentially eliminated the property rights of my children because I thought this would teach them to share, to be generous, and so on. What I didn't realize at the time was that the problem was not ownership, but the heart of man.

Scripture tells us that the Law is our tutor, revealing our need for salvation. When property rights reveal theft or covetousness, jealousy, and envy in the family, this is our chance to discipline and disciple our children in the way of the Lord. Yes, this includes learning to be generous and to acknowledge that our belongings come from the Lord, ultimately belong to Him, are given to us as a stewardship, and are therefore to be used for His glory.

But at the same time, I have been amazed at how very often ownership in our home has revealed a need for Jesus. What I see upwards of 90% of the time is the clamoring, grasping heart--the heart that isn't happy with whatever God has given me, but rather wants what God gave that guy over there. This is envy, folks, plain and simple. And when a child walks up and grabs a toy belonging to another child, this is stealing.

When these sins rear their ugly heads in our home, it is usually not time to lecture the victim on how their things belong to the Lord and they ought to share, but rather to take the thieving heart to another room and bring them back to God, for a covetous spirit is a danger to the soul.

A False Dichotomy
We don't have to choose between ownership on the one hand, and generosity on the other--something which actually begs the question, "Is generosity possible when ownership is not accounted for?" God provides for and instructs us in both.

This is just another instance in which we parents need wisdom. I was weak on the property issue and so the teaching in the parenting class my husband and I took was corrective. If we had a child who was too grasping with his own property, I'm sure we'd need to focus almost entirely on teaching that child about Who ultimately owns his belongings, what is the meaning of biblical stewardship, etcetera.

In Summation
This morning during Circle Time, A.-age-five was playing with a toy that belongs to O.-age-two. (We do not, by the way, guard property so strictly that someone cannot pick up someone else's toy when they are not playing with it, in case you were imagining we did!) A battle over the toy began, and I was just about to intervene, when something fascinating happened.

Daughter A. self-corrected.

"I'm sorry," she said to O. "This is your toy. I forgot."

She handed him the toy and he smiled at her and jabbered in such a way that it was evident he was inviting her to play with him. So, for most of Circle Time, the two of them played quietly with O.'s castle. When I said yesterday that recognizing property rights has brought a measure of peace to our home, this was not in jest.

I'd like to end with GretchenJoanna's comment from yesterday:
It was pointed out to me many years ago that even in the earliest days of the church, when "they had all things in common," when Ananias and Sapphira kept back some of their wealth, it was not the keeping back, but the lying about it, that was their sin. The apostles said, "Was it not yours to use as you wanted?" implying that their sharing was not to be an imposed socialism, but a free decision. It can't be called giving unless it is, and children can't know the joy of giving unless they are free not to give.
Which reminds me of this:
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

II Corinthians 9:6-7