27 April 2013

Preparing To Plant!

Dear Lissy,

Spring, glorious spring, has finally arrived!  We had a loooooong winter this year.  An ice cave even formed at The Flume up in the White Mountains for the first time in my lifetime.  Daddy and I just finished a three year project, and our low maintenance garden is done.  I planted the first of my lettuce, peas, beets, chard, and broccoli last Saturday, and they're all stretching their tiny green arms up through the soil today.

Wren's eye view looking down the garden to the strawberry tower.  The first two beds are planted with peas, chard, lettuce, beets, and broccoli. The next bed is asparagus.  The large empty area in the center is for the work table/canning kitchen.

One of two heirloom rhubarbs that grow to antediluvian proportions.

The snake spa in front of the Jerusalem artichoke bed.  Mice and squirrels are a persistent problem.

Solarizing a 10x 12 squash patch.

The garden gate.  These 8 beds have sockets to make hoophouses for greenhouse or row covers.  We put the (free!) bark mulch in the pathways this year to reduce maintenance.

Asparagus bed in front of the two new beds we put in last week.  We saw our first asparagus spear today!

Love you even more than dirt,

Linked up at Homestead Barn Hop #109

24 April 2013

The Changing Challenge Of Choosing A Bible

Dear Lissy,

I'm not normally a shopper, but books?  That's another story!  When it's time to shop for a Bible, I love looking through choices and reviews.  Even when it's not time to shop for a Bible I enjoy following Bible design blogs and looking through publisher's catalogs. Books in general and Bibles in particular are going through a transition time right now.  Reading books electronically on e-readers or tablet computers is still brand new, but publishers are being forced to create increasingly cheaper volumes to compete with the price of downloads.

Before I begin, there are two things I'm not including in my letter today:

Choosing a Bible program.  Technology is changing so quickly that anything I write would be obsolete by the time you read it.  Even now the apps are so powerful many people use them exclusively.

Choosing a Bible version.  We have a strong conviction -- not just a preference -- for Bible versions based on the Greek TR.   My purpose today is to help you think through the physical features you want in a Bible.

The Old Challenge:  Find a study Bible with plenty of  cross references, explanatory notes, maps, and helps.  Either invest in a cover that allows you to carry it with you, or buy an index card sized "travel" Bible for your purse or briefbag.
The New Challenge:  Find a plain, well-made Bible that's comfortable to read, carry, and use for outreach.

There isn't a study Bible that has the simplicity and power of a Bible app or program.  But recent research on how our brains connect with paper books vs.e-readers provides a lot of incentive to have a single paper Bible that you use consistently.  This research has proven sound in my personal experience, too.  When you were a toddler I started using a Cambridge Pitt Minion as my travel Bible.  I soon found myself using it exclusively, relying on my Bible program and online resources for study material. A few years later I found bibledesignblog.com and discovered I wasn't the only person on earth who preferred the simplicity and hand feel of a smaller, well-made Bible for my daily driver.  

Assignment:  Go to a library or bookstore and find books in standard Bible sizes.  Read several pages of each, and find a comfortable size.  Choose novels, or cookbooks, or repair manuals -- it's better if the text isn't the Bible for this exercise. I've always been drawn to thin, compact books referred to as pocket or coat pocket editions.  Many ladies in our church carry inch-and-a-half thick Bibles about the size of a folded piece of copier paper. Try a few larger books with larger print -- they may surprise you.

Font and layout
Font type and spacing matter more than size. Most Bible sites allow you to print off a sample page so you can test it at home before purchasing.  Do you prefer serif or sans-serif fonts?  One column or two?  Modern or vintage type? Red-letter?
The inside of the Windsor Text Bible printed by Jongbloed, a premier printing house in the Netherlands.
 Daddy and I  prefer verse-by-verse layout to paragraph, even for reading.  Verse-by-verse style leaves ample room for mini-notations, and allows you to find a reference quickly in church.  Most Bible design gurus prefer paragraph format, which requires wide margins if you want to make annotations. Try both formats before buying.  
 Quality & Durability

My regular reading  Bible feels familiar, like a friend.  I become accustomed to where verses are on the page, and have marks like little nightlights and signposts to help me remember important principles.  I will never recommend buying a cheaply made Bible for regular use. Fortunately some of the best Bibles in the world are made or marketed by non-profits, so they are inexpensive.   
    • Is the binding sewn (library quality)?  I'd search publishers & Bible type rather than trying to tell by looking.  Does the Bible lie flat when open? Is text caught in the gutter?
    • How big is the Bible?  The "sweet spot" for bindings is a mid-sized Bible.  A small Bible isn't flexible and cracks the hinges.  A  large Bible is heavy enough to distort the binding unless special care is taken.  Both flaws are easily fixed by a competent bookbinder for a small fee.
    • Is the paper matte instead of shiny?  Shiny smooth paper glares under a reading light and smears when you use a pencil or highlighter.
    • Does "ghosting" -- font showing through from the back of the page -- make it difficult to read the text?  High quality publishing aligns the type front and back so the only visible ghosting is in white spaces.  (See the picture above)  All Bibles have some show through because paper thick enough to be opaque would make the Bible too big to use.
    • Is the cover supple and flexible genuine leather?  Newer vinyls are every bit as supple as leather, and a great choice.  One of the most common Bible failures occurs where the cover meets the text block inside the cover.  
Broken inner hinge between the cover and text block.
All books -- all Bibles -- have to be maintained and repaired  with heavy use.  My Cambridge Pitt Minion, a substantial investment, needs endpapers and hinges repaired after 7 years (that's about 5,000 uses).   Rebinding costs about the same as a new Bible, but repair is generally about half the cost.  Have your Bible maintenanced before it's falling apart if you're looking to keep it for many years.

If you'd like a longer lasting Bible, try one of the British publishers or a small American publisher.  RL Allan makes luxury Bibles, and Cambridge and Oxford generally make high quality, sewn Bibles. Read reviews carefully since even a change in printing location can change quality.   Trinitarian Bible Society distributes KJV Cambridge Bibles under their own brand name for about half the cost.  LCBP in America makes a solid quality Bible at a reasonable price.
 Reference Features

This is purely personal preference, but keep in mind even humongous Bibles can't fit all the reference material you want.   I like to have my Bible open to the passage I'm studying, and use my Bible program for study features.  

  • My ideal Bible is text only.  I mark, annotate, cross-reference, and chain. I decided that more extensive notes and quotes would go in my computer program.
  • Dad prefers wide margins so he can keep sermons, quotes, and illustrations in with the text.  
  • Children usually like a few basic cross references, definitions, and helps.  Kirkbride publishing makes the Answer Bible that's ideal.  All three of you used this simplified version of the Thompson Chain during elementary and junior high school.  Trinitarian Bible society carries a line of affordable Cambridge Bibles for children and teens, and LCBP has several economical choices as well.

I like using the same Bible at church as I do at home.  I believe there's a connection we develop with physical books that allows us to navigate quickly and remember more.  Because of that, I want a Bible that slides into my bag easily, and is comfortable to hold through a 45 minute sermon.  I want to curl up by the stove with that same Bible on a chilly winter morning.  I want to be able to teach, comfort, counsel, or witness without freezing up because I can't remember a reference.  I also keep my paper Bible open on my desk for study, relying on the computer for helps, not text.

With all of these considerations, what would I recommend?
Thinline:   The Trinitarian Bible Society's Windsor Bible (text only) or Classic Bible (center column reference)are available for as little as $10, the premium calfskin bindings are around $45.  When I have to replace my Cambridge Pitt Minion, I'll be looking into the Windsor.  The Pitt Minion is one of the darlings of Bible design geeks, but the TBS Bible's quality (made by Cambridge), price, and larger font make them a better value. 
The Windsor Text, a high quality British Bible, is a great value at $45. 

Personal or Large SizeLocal Church Bible Publisher's Mid-Size Wide Margin or Notetaker's bible.  These quality Bibles start at $8 for Vinyl bound and go up to $55 for the Executive series in full leather. They are made in Wisconsin and regularly outperform heavyweights like R.L. Allan and Cambridge at a fraction of the price.  The Hand-Sized Bibles are 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 and the mid sized are closer to 8 x 10".  Both are over an inch and a half thick.

Dad prefers the traditional wide margin, but this notetaker's is the bestseller at LCBP.
 I hope you have fun choosing a Bible design you'll love and read daily. While this may seem silly, a comfortable Bible gets used.   It doesn't matter if you like an eight pound study Bible, an app on a tablet, or a trim little text-only Bible if you're regularly in the Word.  
Lovin' you,

Linked up at Raising Homemakers, WFMWWomen Living Well,
Cornerstone confessions

11 April 2013

One Quick Tip: Disciplining with Grace

Dear Lissy,

It's not uncommon to have a child come to me to confess they've broken a rule or offended a sibling.  When one of you demonstrates the humility and character to do so, I don't want to punish you at all!  Unfortunately, if I choose to not mete out any punishment, the confession becomes a "get out of jail free" card.  So how do I grace-fully handle a confession?  I ask a simple question:

 What do you think your punishment should be for this offense?

The child will almost always answer that question with a harsh penalty -- far greater than I would enact even if I had discovered the sin without the confession.  This allows me to mete out an appropriate punishment but still show that child grace.   

On the rare occasion that a child is "confessing" to avoid getting in more trouble when their offense is inevitably revealed, they'll suggest a powderpuff punishment, and I can do some additional heart work.

Effective discipleship is sometimes tricky, but God always gives wisdom for the task.


04 April 2013

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers!

Dear Lissy,

I've spent most of my life looking for one "perfect" system to run our home.  Maybe a creamy leather planner with lots of sections and fun goodies?  Or a hand-crafted home management binder?  A tickler file, maybe?

No, Tigger, I said trigger!  But how can I resist such a cute fella?
I love me a system, but it's way more fun to set one up than actually use it.  I tend to budget time, neglecting to consider my energy level or the seasons. 

I started last year making an effort to be 100% present and aware.To look well to the ways of my home. To rely more on my eyes than a system.  This is nothing new.  I've mentioned "time and eyes" as  your two best tools since I began these letters.

Our first step was to simplify our home, making it easier to tidy and clean.
  • We removed extra furniture and temporary storage from every room (baskets, totes, etc.)  
  • We got rid of dumpsters worth and minivans full of stuff.
  • We set up permanent, easy storage solutions for things we needed to keep.
My next goal was to reset routines we had established when you were little.  Your morning, afternoon, and evening routines expanded to include yard and household tasks.  My routines were simplified and streamlined to reflect the fact that all three of you are now in school until at least 1 pm and attending 4H groups in the afternoons and evenings.  The simple fact is, daily does it.  The everyday is important.

Lastly,  I've spent the last year setting hundreds of little systems into place with (mostly) visual triggers.   I noticed how much easier my garden was when I used phrenology - the study of seasonal clues -- to plant, transplant, cover, and harvest my crops.  Why not transfer that to housekeeping?

 I don't need a monthly list with "clean coffeemaker" on it if I make it a habit to run vinegar water through our coffeemaker every time the bag of beans runs out (we buy BIG bags, so that's roughly once every 2-3 weeks).

Visual trigger:  Empty bag of coffee beans
Next action:  Run vinegar water through coffeemaker

I started with areas that were a daily challenge:

Action:  Clean kitchen, including sweeping and damp-mopping floor
Trigger:  End of meal.  The kitchen has to be clean -- counters, sink, appliances, floor, ceiling - clean.

Action:  Laundry re-boot
Trigger:  Snack/drink.  Thirsty?  Hungry?  Craving?  Switch, fold, or put away laundry first.   

Action:  Take vitamins and supplements
Trigger: RSS Reader log-in.  My reader is one of my morning habits.  I hate swallowing vitamins.

I also included weekly tasks. . .

Action:  Dust bedroom
Trigger:  Changing sheets (Clean sheets are a big deal to me, so this is a great trigger)

Action: Quick blitz pick-up/wipe down of whole house
Trigger: 4 pm

Action:  Thoroughly clean kitchen, top down
Trigger:  Monday  (Each day is now a trigger for a different zone in the house)

And even seasonal tasks. . .

Action:  Clean windows & curtains
Trigger:  Pollen fall in the spring

Action:  Clean out ceiling light fixtures
Trigger:  Changing bulb OR washing window exteriors in room or just looking at it and thinking "OH, my!  That things is full of bugs.  Yuck!"

Action:  Flip or spin mattresses
Trigger:  Time change (flip it in the fall, spin it in the spring)

I've removed about 90% of the items on my lists using this method.  It's slow.  You can't fix triggers all at once, because in essence you're forming new habits.  I worked on one at a time until that item was already done when it popped up on a list.

What does this mean practically?
 I  have to be in every room of the house several times a day because this system depends heavily on my eyes.  I can't just call up on the intercom and have your brother switch the laundry to the dryer, because I won't be able to do a visual check on the bathroom and classroom.  I'm constantly doing 10 second to 2 minute tasks throughout the course of the day.

I've revamped my tickler so it's a monthly folder instead of a daily one like when you were little.  I write any reminders in the monthly folder on my calendar and add a circled "T" so I know there's info in the tickler to go with that item.  Much of my information comes in digitally, and is stored in my G-mail account now, too. That goes on the calendar with a "G" in a circle.

I still write a scheduled, daily to-do list, but I rarely have more than 3-4 items on the list because the rest has fallen into habits and rhythms.

I'm much more relaxed and able to focus on relationships.  My list is small, and the triggers come at all different times during the day.  I'm also able to stop working and enjoy the family after dinner clean-up.

Although I suspect this is how most people manage a home, it was a transition for me.  I can happily overlook clutter or laundry temporarily and sit at my sewing machine or computer and hammer out a project.  Now I have the freedom to pull out my sewing machine (that new spring tote bag!) or work on a computer project (Bible study pamphlet!) without landing in time debt.

Love you, my springy, wonderful girl!

Linked up at Barn Hop #107