Archive for May, 2009

A real-life miracle

Photo courtesy of Aaron Landry

Photo courtesy of Aaron Landry

I could just cry.  This morning, after I woke up, I found that a miracle had happened in our home. Last night, when I went to bed, the toilet paper roll was empty in the bathroom.  Sometimes, when I notice this, I don’t replace it myself in order to leave a service opportunity for one of our six children.  Until this moment, no one has ever taken that opportunity.  Occasionally, one of them will search out another roll of toilet paper, use what they need and leave the roll on the counter, but the roll has never been replaced entirely.

I should have known by the way I was able to sleep until after 7:30am, the way the birds were singing and the sun was shining that this was no ordinary day. I walked into the bathroom and there it was…a full toilet paper roll AND the empty one was nowhere to be seen.  I was almost breathless.  I knew it wasn’t Steve, as I had gone to bed after him and awoken before him.  It had to be one of the children.  I knew the only possibility was that it was my oldest daughter, who will turn 15 years old tomorrow.

15 years short one day into my mothering career and one of my children replaced the toilet paper without being asked.

My life will never be the same.

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This week we are reading together the Parents’ Review article, Hero-Worship by G.E. Troutbeck written in 1903.

When I first chose this article, I pictured myself beginning my comments with a disclaimer that worship is to be reserved only for God and that, of course, the author knew this, that the word ‘worship’ indicated something different, that the author really just meant ‘admiration’, etc. After reading the article, on one level I think I was wrong. The author says that we look to children for their “generous enthusiasms and warm-hearted, if perhaps undiscriminating, admiration of great men and great causes.” Referred to as ‘worship’ in the rest of the article, the type of admiration that children have for heroes is much more passionate than the type of admiration adults have. Like the early days of a young romance, it is almost obsessive in nature and it sweetly lacks the ability to see anything but the positive.

Troutbeck urges us not to encourage our children to develop “the critical habit of mind” too early. This habit develops easily enough on its own far too soon. She said children should not grow up in an atmosphere where someone is continually saying something negative or critical. Interestingly, she points out that the cultivation of the critical faculty is “often a cheap way of getting a reputation for smartness” — so true! In all walks of life, a criticism tends to be looked up on as true insight and knowledge.

The author says not to worry too soon about waking our children up to the pessimistic truth — today we would say helping them ‘think critically’. Not to be misunderstood, critical thinking skills are absolutely essential and sorely lacking in many young people and adults nowdays. However, the time and place for their development is probably in the pre-teen/teen years. This idea spoke to me as it is my natural tendency to constantly point out cynical ‘insights’ and anything I consider conspiracies in order to help my children be wise to the world around them. (Generally, the eye-rolling I get tells me when I am over-doing it.)

Why encourage our children to linger on in the phase of their life when they ‘live in a fantasy world’ with their heroes? The author suggests many reasons. Here are a few of my favourite:

Hero-worship teaches children to recognize merit. Heroes always have outstanding qualities the separate them from everyone else around them. In the ‘real world’, admirable qualities are very present but sometimes harder to recognize than in stories. In the hero world of a child’s mind, they are very obvious. A child learns to notice these admirable qualities through exposure to worthy heroes.

On a practical level, hero worship inspires children to learn history. It would be a very dry and dull subject without the inspiring stories of the people who stood out as remarkable leaders throughout time. As with Charlotte Mason’s schools, our homeschool makes liberal use of living books, ones that allow us to ‘live’ out the stories contained within. Many textbooks, such as the ones I used in school when learning history, take all the life out of a subject by leaving out the inspiring stories in order to efficiently present factual material. Unfortunately, it is precisely because of leaving out these inspiring stories that the material ends up not being truly learned. When we love someone, we want to know everything about them and learn it effortlessly.

Hero-worship teaches children to be great — and to be humble. The author says that “Nothing calls out our powers and faculties so fully and so adequately as personal influence, the influence, direct or indirect, of someone whom we at the same time love and admire.” When a child is in that stage of ‘hero worship’ and are connected to a worthy hero through a wonderful book, they end up coming to love and admire that hero. Like the young romantic, the obsessive, undiscriminating nature of this love teaches the child to strive to be great, just like his hero. At the same time, the recognition of real greatness casts a bright light on our own limitations. In a very healthy way, our children learn humility by looking at the greatness of someone else (even though — maybe because — it is an unrealistic picture — leaving out the negative traits.)

Hero worship causes children to recognize the heroic in ordinary people and ordinary situations. Because they have learned to recognize merit in heroes, they are able to then pick out everyday heroism when it is harder to see. This builds admiration and respect for the real people in their lives and relational world.

Children are naturally drawn to heroes. As parents in today’s age, our challenge is to present our children with worthy and noble heroes during the time when they are defining, for themselves, what qualities they believe make a hero. If we do not go out of our way to present these worthy heroes to our children, they will default to worldly ‘heroes’. For boys, this is likely to mean worship of professional athletes. While there are lots of characteristics to admire about professional athletes, few of them live a life of integrity and would make worthy heroes for our sons. For our daughters, their default heroes will likely be actresses or singers from popular culture. Sadly, the hero-worthiness situation is grim here, too.

I admit it. I love the sheltering aspect of homeschooling. I love that our young children sometimes talk like they are from 1950. (Without a word of a lie, two years ago, my son said he could not wear a certain very-nice outfit to church because, “if I do the other kids will be giving me the business.”) They cannot and should not stay sheltered forever, though. Our job is not to keep them from the world forever. I think our job is to do our best to help our children feel ‘at home’ with goodness, to develop a taste for truth and love and integrity when they are young so that when they are gradually released from our safe nest, they are uncomfortable with the opposite.

We introduce our children to worthy heroes this way:
Our children have a biography of a Christian hero on the go at all times as part of their homeschooling. We start new readers (gr. 1-2) with the Hero Tales volumes written by Dave and Neta Jackson. Each of the four volumes contains several easily narrated biographies in short segments that highlight a few fascinating stories from the hero’s life. From there, our children move onto longer biographies, beginning with the fairly easy to read Christian Heroes: Then and Now series of books by Janet and Geoffrey Benge. As they complete one book (reading about 2 chapters a week), we just insert another one.

I will end with this quote from the article, which I loved. I am looking very forward to hearing your thoughts about the article, too.

‘Learning,’ as Hegel points out, ‘when regarded as a mere process of reception and matter of memory, is a most imperfect kind of education…It is through thinking that the thoughts of others are seized, and this after-thinking is the real learning.’ When all is said and done, is not the end and aim of all true education the formation of character?

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Sorry I am a little slow getting my comments on this week’s article posted. They will be up later today. I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the article, too.


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A great frugal food site

I was just linked to an excellent site called, $5 dinners. I am usually very leery of this type of thing, as I find the recipes are generally combinations of ritz crackers and cream of mushroom soup.  However, I just had a quick look at a few of the recipes here and was pleasantly surprised to find lots of whole foods.  I’m not a big fan of buying my meats based on which ones are the cheapest, but certainly if the places I trust (my favourite farm and the farmer’s market) have something on sale, I’d be happy to buy it.  :)

I linked you to her recipe index, but the site owner, Erin, seems to have a blog that looks interesting, too.

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Defining Real Food

Photo courtesy of Esteban Cavrico

I don’t really trust anyone in the “food” industry to tell me what is and isn’t a real food.
They are constantly changing what they say is healthy and important to eat. While I find the idea of ‘superfoods’ very annoying and trendy, I do think they are an improvement over the idea that we can somehow make up for an unhealthy diet by taking artificial supplements. If we truly cannot get what we need to live from our foods then something is terribly wrong with our food supply.

And, I think that is definitely the case. However, that is not what I wanted to talk about today.

Like you, I live in the real world, too. I don’t have a two acre, bio-dynamic organic garden from which I can pick everything we eat. I don’t have a farm that houses a small number of harmonious animals living out a life of country bliss until the day that their lives are ended (in a humane way) so that our family can have meat we know comes from an animal who has been treated ethically. We don’t milk our own cows, collect our own eggs or dry our own salt. I don’t make cheese or have summer sausage curing in a shed somewhere.

But I could, if I really wanted to.

That is my definition of real food. Even if it is not prepared by me, I think real food is something I could make myself at home if I really wanted to. For example, I could skim cream off the top of a pail of milk and make whipped cream. I could not make the chemicals and do whatever it is they do to make ‘whipped topping’, however. (I also could not add all the preservatives and other weird ingredients they add to most creams, so I look for whipping cream that lists ‘cream’ as the only ingredient.) While I could skim the milk, I could not homogenize it. I also would not skim the milk, throw away the cream and drink the milk skimmed.

I could, if I really wanted to, slaughter a chicken, remove feathers and — gulp — the beak, feet and insides and roast the bird for dinner. I could not, however, make a typical chicken nugget. And, I would not slaughter our family’s chicken, cut out the two breasts, bone and skin them and throw out the rest of the chicken!! I could churn butter. I could not make margarine. I could make lard. I could not make hydrogenated vegetable oil. I could pick, dry and roast coffee beans (cheers go up from my readers!). I could not make solvent to add to make the beans decaf. I could, however, perform the ‘swiss water process’, if I really wanted to.

I think it is particularly important to keep these ideas in mind when you are shopping at a natural foods store. I love our local natural foods store and my natural foods buying co-op. However, they do contain lots of factory-made foods. Yes, I could make whole grain pasta and cheese sauce with whole ingredients. No, I could not make whole foods into powdered cheese sauce. Just because something started out with quinoa or organic navy beans does not mean it goes into your body in a whole foods form. It is easy to spend a whole lot of money on foods that, while slightly better than their grocery store counterparts, are really of low nutritional value.

I don’t always follow my own philosophy perfectly and I don’t always know how everything is made, so I can’t always say if I could do it myself at home or not. I just try to keep my philosophy in mind when I shop and do what I can. I don’t stress the rest.

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For our Mommy-brain sharpening this week, we will be reading together the article, Hero Worship from the archives of the Parents’ Review. Comments will be posted on Thursday. I hope you will join along in the reading and post your thoughts. I really enjoy this topic.


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Thank You Socks

Sheri’s Posies Socks, pattern by Wendy Johnson

My dear friend, Irene, has driven my oldest daughter to and from her homeschool high-school co-op once a week for this entire year. It is about an hour away, so it would be a huge effort for me to work this out on my own. However, the co-op is fantastic and we really wanted dd to participate. Irene drives her own daughter (and her daughter now drives sometimes, too) and my dd, waits around the whole day and then drives the girls home. Sigh. I could never repay this kindness to Irene, so I am just tucking away this and all of the other generous things people in my life do for me. One day, I will bless other homeschooling moms with lots of little ones at home who cannot do all of the things they would like to do for their older children.

I decided to show Irene my love and gratitude by knitting her a pair of socks. I used my very best sock yarn, Pagewood Farm‘s Alyeska Hand Dyed Sock Yarn, which is a cashmere blend. The pattern is ‘Sheri’s Posies Socks’ from the book, Socks from the Toe Up by Wendy Johnson. If you look closely, you can see the flower motif along the front of the socks. I thought this was like giving Irene a big boquet of flowers — only better!

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Photo courtesy of p!o

This week, we are reading the Parents’ Review article,
Flower Teaching by Dorothea Beale. This article is a re-print of a collection of poems about Daisies, originally printed in the Cheltenham Ladies’ College Magazine along with some introductory comments about the importance of encouraging a love of flowers in our children. I must admit that a lot of the article was a stretch for me to understand. However, I did take away a few nuggets.

According to Mrs. Beale, it is important that a “love of flowers should be fostered in all” because:

  1. It develops a love of the beautiful
  2. It fine-tunes observation skills
  3. It develops the sense of order as the child observes the patterns of leaves and petals and learns to classify flowers

The author tells of a favourite activity of the Division III students. ( I am wondering what age this is, since the age groups are generally referred to by ‘Class’. Do any readers know to what age ‘Division III’ refers? Of course, it doesn’t matter a whole lot to homeschoolers.) Each child contributes a large page about his/her chosen flower. The article doesn’t say whether the plant is pressed or painted, but the parts are all labelled. The child also chooses a poem about the flower and copies it onto the page. The sheets are then bound together so that the class has a lovely book to look at, to which each child has contributed. In the family setting, of course, unless you have a gigantic number of children, it would probably be nicer to have each child contribute several flower pages over the course of a couple of months. Otherwise, even for large families, the book would be pretty sparse! I think we will make this our spring/summer/early fall project. I like this idea because I think it is important to have some things that we do together as a family, co-operatively.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the spiritual aspects of the article.
I wanted so badly to really grab hold of the similarities between flowers and our connection to our Lord, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the ideas except for a very small preliminary understanding. I did really enjoy the story of the father and son, where the father shows the son that if he breaks the seed, there is nothing inside. Yet, that seed contains the entire essence of the Nyagrodha tree. Given the right growing conditions the seed will become just what it was destined to be.

Taking this further, there are so many factors that affect the way the tree turns out, the quality of the soil, the place where it was planted, the availability of water, and, of course, the nourishing and life-giving presence of the sun. All of these can determine life or death for the tree. Within that life, these factors will determine the strength of the tree to stand up to storms, to live a long life and to be fruitful. Nothing can change the tree from a Nyagrodha into another tree. That was determined by our Lord. How great a Nyagrodha tree it becomes, however, is affected by many things.

I love the parallels of this story to the lives of our little plants, our children.
They are going to be the people God created them to be. They come with a destiny, a nature and a special purpose. We cannot change them into someone else anymore than we can change the seed of the Nyagrodha tree into a grape vine. This isn’t our job, though. Our job is to help our little plants become strong so that they will be able to stand up to storms, to live a long life and to be fruitful. And, best of all, when they are strong, trees point straight to our wonderful, generous and loving Lord. :)

What did you take away from the article? Do you have very many flowers out where you live, yet?

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cupboard doors! We are doing some renovations right now, including the painting of my kitchen cabinet doors. My mom was wonderful enough to take home all the doors to paint in one — well, two — fell swoops. Baby guy thought this was an excellent and rare opportunity, as it gave him access to all kinds of goodies he doesn’t normally have access to. The vinegars proved to be great fun, as did the dishwasher detergent, which was, sadly, moved before he had time to really enjoy it.

If my mom wanted to get a picture for her blog of me right inside this cupboard, she should have been quicker with the camera!

Unfortunately, for baby guy, my mom brought back a big stack of doors about an hour after I took this picture. I could never have open shelves in my kitchen. It is amazing what a difference it makes to the look of organization to have my stuff all covered with doors! Of course, there is also the issue of the six children. :)

Thank-you, Mom!!

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My friend, Monique, pointed me in the direction of Simple Mom who is hosting a Spring Cleaning Party. I am a day late in starting, but I think it shouldn’t be too hard to catch up. We are super busy doing lots of painting and renovating at my home, so the mess is driving me crazy! I’m going to do what I can. If your home needs a Spring Cleaning, I hope you’ll join me. If it doesn’t need cleaning, maybe you can start a blog and give the rest of us some good tips!

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